Objectives: To assess the long-term prognosis of leg ulcers.
Design: A 5 year prospective cohort study.
Materials: A random sample of 382 patients with open leg ulcers (foot ulcers included) treated in the community.
Methods: Interim analyses were made at 15 months (arterial ulcers) and at 20 months (varicose ulcers). Long-term healing was assessed at 54 months by a postal questionnaire. Five year survival was assessed by official population registries.
Results: At 54 months 212 patients (55%) were still alive, of whom 124 (58%) had healed their ulcers, 80 (38%) had open ulcers and eight (4%) were amputated. The healing was worst for patients with venous ulcers, only 44% had healed their original ulcers without recurrence. The 5 year survival was 52%, significantly lower than for age- and sex-matched controls (68%) (p = 0.0002). Patients with venous ulcers had a survival not significantly different from controls and patients with arterial or other aetiologies had a doubled risk of death. Diabetic patients had a lower survival than non-diabetics (p < 0.05) and controls (p < 0.0001), but the healing prognosis was not significantly different.
Conclusion: Only patients with non-venous ulcers have a higher mortality than expected. The long-term healing prognosis for leg ulcer patients is poor and worst for patients with venous ulcers.