How to treat leg discoloration for patients with vascular disease?
Leg discoloration extends much deeper than superficial varicose veins. If you begin to notice changes in skin tone, color, or texture around your ankles and lower legs, it could indicate an underlying vascular disease.
What is Leg Discoloration?
Venous stasis dermatitis, commonly referred to as leg discoloration, occurs due to problems with your veins located in your feet or lower legs. Leg discoloration can occur in individuals with circulation issues.
If your veins aren't performing at their full capacity, blood isn't returned back to your heart like it's supposed to. Valves located in your legs push blood upward towards your heart, but in the presence of other threatening health conditions, valves can struggle to perform at full capacity.
What are the Causes of Leg Discoloration?
You may be at higher risk of leg discoloration if you:
- Are older than 50
- Are overweight
- Have long periods of immobility
- Have untreated varicose veins. These are gnarled, enlarged veins in the legs and feet that are generally benign, but cause cosmetic abnormalities on the skin's surface.
- Have a blood clot in your leg. These pose a health risk when they form incorrectly in your veins and can hinder proper blood flow.
- Have high blood pressure, which is when the force of the blood pushing against your blood vessels' walls is consistently too high.
- Have an existing heart condition
- Have kidney failure
- Have had many pregnancies
- Have had previous surgery or significant injury to the area
For the remainder of the article, we will focus on leg discoloration caused by vascular disorders in the legs. The National Institutes of Health have put together a visual guide to six conditions that contribute to skin discoloration that can be accessed here.
Leg Discoloration Caused by a Vascular Disorder
Leg discoloration is commonly an indicator that you may be suffering from a vascular disorder that has not yet been diagnosed. A vascular disorder is a disease that affects the blood vessels (veins and arteries) and capillaries located deeper than the superficial level of the body.
Chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) refers to when the valves and veins in your legs become weak, which cripples their ability to return the blood to the heart. When your veins run out of room to hold the extra blood and fluid, it's forced into surrounding tissues, contributing to the discoloration of the legs and ankles.
Step-by-Step Guide on How to Treat Leg Discoloration
If you notice any of the symptoms listed below, you should seek medical treatment. As long as you're not experiencing any severe pain or discomfort, scheduling an appointment with your primary care provider is the first step. If needed, they may refer you to a specialist in vein disease.
Besides discoloration of the skin, other symptoms you may experience include:
- Swelling in the immediate area
- Scaly and crusty sores
- Loss of hair on shins and ankles
- Thickened skin
- Varicose or spider veins
If your doctor believes that your leg's discoloration is stemming from vascular disease, they'll use ultrasound technologies to determine any abnormalities in blood flow before proceeding to treatment.
You and your doctor will decide on the best treatment option for you, depending on your age, medical history, and current symptoms. Two common forms of treatment include radiofrequency ablation and sclerotherapy.
- Radiofrequency ablation is a minimally invasive procedure. Your doctor will insert a catheter into an area of affected veins and use radiofrequency energy to heat the veins at a low temperature. This procedure reroutes blood to healthier vessels and rarely causes any postoperative pain.
- Sclerotherapy is similar to radiofrequency ablation but uses a sclerosant chemical solution to reroute the blood flow instead of a catheter and radiofrequency.
If your condition is not severe, your doctor may bypass the treatment options listed above. Instead, recommendations include wearing compression stockings, keeping your affected leg elevated above your hips (to increase blood flow back to the heart), and regular exercise.
Because leg discoloration can be linked to many vascular diseases, the prognosis varies on a patient-to-patient basis.
The discoloration is not only a cosmetic concern, and can be an indicator of more serious risks to your health. As long as treatment is sought promptly, most patients can expect the problem to be under control in a manner of weeks or months.
Common Medication to Expect During Treatment Period
Your doctor may prescribe a steroid or other topical medicine to apply directly to your legs. If your legs become itchy, you may need to apply antihistamine cream to avoid further irritation.
If the discoloration is stemming from a blood clot, you can expect to take anticoagulants or blood thinners until the problem subsides; the most common anticoagulants are warfarin and heparin.
What Happens if You Don't Treat Prolonged Leg Discoloration?
Ignoring leg discoloration stemming from a vascular disorder can affect much more than just your skin.
Untreated venous insufficiency can harden the soft tissues around your veins in the lower
regions of the legs. Your skin may harden, thicken, and dry out, leading to pain and discomfort.
How to Manage Leg Discoloration After Treatment?
Your doctor may also request that you perform specific actions at home alongside the in-office treatment you receive.
Healthy lifestyle changes, such as losing weight and performing regular exercise, can help immensely. Be sure to avoid wearing tight clothing that can restrict your blood flow, and wear compression stockings if recommended by your doctor.
Moisturizing your skin will also help any external symptoms such as sores, thickened skin, and hair loss. Massaging a lotion or moisturizer into your skin will also help stimulate proper blood flow. Avoid using drying soaps or harsh chemicals on your skin during baths and showers.
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 Leg Discoloration
In 2018, the Society for Vascular Surgery took a more in-depth look at specific health conditions that form due to pregnancy. Chronic venous insufficiency can lead to leg discoloration and affects up to 80% of pregnant women. Due to medication restrictions during pregnancy, non-pharmacologic therapies were discussed, such as compression, reflexology, and water immersion.