What is Foot Discoloration?
A foot can appear discolored because of poor blood circulation, bruising, or disease. The common causes of foot discoloration are:
If something injures your foot, it can cause bruising with a range of color from purple through yellow and green as the bruising heals. Bruising can also result from strains and sprains. Your healthcare provider may recommend an xray or other imaging, depending on the circumstances.
Minor foot injuries heal relatively quickly with non-prescription anti-inflammatory and pain relief. The standard home approach is:
- Rest - take a break and get the weight off painful feet and legs
- Ice - apply an ice pack to cool the foot and reduce swelling. Frozen peas make a flexible ice pack.
- Compression - bandage tightly enough to reduce the discomfort and swelling but not so tightly that you stop blood circulating. Graduated compression socks can be obtained other the counter.
- Elevation - raising the foot may help, but if it makes the foot hurt or turn white, if may be a sign of severe vascular disease.
Raynaud's is surprisingly common - it affects circulation in hands and feet. The blood vessels constrict, cutting off the blood supply, and fingers and toes turn blue, white, purple, or red. The color change goes along with numbness, tingling, and possible pain and difficulties using your toes and fingers.
Usually, Raynaud's is associated with cold temperature, but stress and anxiety can trigger this reaction. Generally, people make sure to invest in warm gloves and socks in cold weather. Medication can help control the symptoms in severe cases.
Raynaud's may be masking other conditions like Lupus, so talk to your healthcare provider about whether or not more testing is necessary.
Lupus is an autoimmune condition, and it can result in vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessels) in the feet. It looks like a rash or purple or red dots. Patients may also feel sensations of numbness or tingling in the area of the rash.
Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)
Narrowing of the arteries results in restricted blood flow to the feet in a condition called peripheral arterial disease. Feet can turn blue, purple, or pink from a lack of oxygen. Left untreated, severe PAD can lead to amputation.
Diabetes is a disease that results in damage to your blood vessels and nerves in the foot area. People with diabetes are prone to problems with their foot health and at a high risk of developing PAD. If you have diabetes, your physician will explain that you need to pay special attention to your feet.
Freezing temperatures can damage your toes and fingers; these frostbitten areas can be grey, blue, purple, or a grim black. The damage can be permanent and result in amputation. Poor blood circulation makes you more vulnerable to frostbite, and prevention is the best course of action.
Protecting your feet and keeping them warm and dry in freezing conditions is the best approach. Plus, be alert to pain, numbness, and feet discoloration and seek immediate medical help if you suspect frostbite.
Diagnosing Peripheral Artery Disease
If your doctor suspects peripheral artery disease after looking at your feet discoloration, they can recommend further testing:
Your pulse may be weak or nonexistent, and you may show poor wound healing and lower blood pressure in your feet.
A blood test is useful in checking levels of cholesterol and looking for other conditions like diabetes. The blood test does not give a definitive diagnosis but provides supporting details.
Ankle-Brachial Index (ABI)
Comparing the blood pressure in your ankle with the blood pressure in your arm is the most common test for PAD. Your doctor takes the measurements with a blood pressure cuff. The blood pressure and flow are evaluated further with ultrasound.
Typically, readings are before and after exercise on a treadmill to assess how badly your poor blood circulation impacts you.
Ultrasound allows your doctor to see images of your blood vessels and pinpoint areas where they arrow or have obstructions.
Injecting a contrast material into your blood allows imaging techniques involving X-rays or magnetic resonance to display pictures of your blood vessels in great detail. Using a catheter injected through the groin area is more invasive but provides diagnosis and treatment options in one operation.
Treating Peripheral Artery Disease
Lifestyle changes help manage the condition and prevent it from getting worse. If you have feet discoloration, treatment is necessary to alleviate pain and improve your level of physical activity.
- Prescribing medication supports the goals of:
- Preventing blood clots - daily aspirin or other medicines.
- Lowering blood pressure - high blood pressure is undesirable for general health.
- Reducing cholesterol - statins.
- Relieving pain
Surgical options aim at removing blockages, widening, and possibly reinforcing the blood vessels. Alternatively, bypass surgery grafts alternative routes for blood flow past severely damaged areas.
If blood clots create a blockage, then injecting clot-dissolving drugs (thrombolytic therapy) at the blockage site is a useful technique.
Most surgical options involve using a catheter to allow the vascular surgeon to operate in a minimally invasive way to:
- Widen blood vessels (using a small balloon),
- Remove plaque deposits from blood vessel walls
- Insert stents (mesh tubes) to reinforce the blood vessels.
One treatment goal is to allow you to walk without pain. Your doctor will recommend lifestyle changes (stop smoking, lose weight), and supervised exercise sessions. Exercise helps bodies function more efficiently and improves circulation.
PAD makes walking painful, but perseverance with your prescribed exercises will extend the amount of walking you can do without pain.
Most people with PAD either remain stable or improve with appropriate treatment. Severe PAD occurs with other problems like heart disease, and the complications and risks associated with heart attacks and stroke are much higher.
Untreated peripheral arterial disease and neglecting management of other medical conditions like diabetes can result in gangrene, ulceration, and potential amputations.
Following and during treatment for PAD, you improve your recovery and future health by minimizing the risk factors and making lifestyle changes:
- Stop Smoking.
- Lose weight.
- Improve your diet.
- Drink more water.
- Exercise by walking daily.
- Protect your feet in cold weather.
Going forwards, you work closely with your doctor to monitor your medication and lifestyle improvements to reduce pain and regain freedom of movement.
What to expect after treatment from CVM?
At the Center for Vascular Medicine, our mission is to help patients with their vascular diseases in a cost-effective and compassionate manner. We specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of venous and arterial diseases in the legs, feet, and pelvis. Our world-class providers are the most experienced in the specialty and work with patients to develop a treatment plan that is custom tailored to their unique situation.
Typically, this process involves an initial consultation and ultrasound scan at one of our accredited facilities. After reviewing the results of your scan and obtaining a thorough medical history, our providers will discuss the results with you and help you decide on next steps.
Our health care providers use several diagnostic tests to help determine what vascular diseases may be causing your symptoms. Our initial evaluations utilize ultrasound because this non-invasive imaging modality helps us verify our suspicions on whether your symptoms are caused by underlying vascular disease.
Latest research on treating feet discoloration