• chronic venous insufficiency;
  • leg ulcer;
  • pain;
  • patient problems;
  • quality of life;
  • review

Background.  Current nursing care for leg ulcer patients often focuses on wound care and providing compression therapy. Nurses perceive leg ulcer patients as ‘under-served’ with regard to problems patients experience in daily life. An overview of patient problems is a first and essential step in the development of comprehensive nursing care.

Aims and objectives.  To gather information about the impact of leg ulcers on patient's daily life as described in quantitative and qualitative studies.

Design.  Systematic literature review.

Methods.  Medline and Cinahl databases were searched for venous leg ulcer studies, up to 2002; this was followed by the ‘snowball method’. Studies were selected in accordance with preset criteria.

Results.  A total of 37 studies was included. All studies report that leg ulcers pose a threat to physical functioning. Furthermore, a negative impact on psychological functioning is reported and, to a lesser degree, on social functioning. Major limitations are pain and immobility, followed by sleep disturbance, lack of energy, limitations in work and leisure activities, worries and frustrations and a lack of self-esteem. Patients have a significantly poorer quality of life compared with healthy people. Finally, patients report problems with regard to follow-up treatment.

Conclusions.  Having a leg ulcer has a major impact on a patient's life. There are indications of under-treatment of pain.

Relevance to clinical practice.  Keeping in mind that leg ulceration is notorious for its chronic character, the negative impact on patient's life implies that many patients suffer over longer periods of time. This emphasizes the need to focus on quality of life aspects in patient care. There is much to gain, especially concerning pain and mobility. The development of comprehensive care programmes is essential.