“Why Are My Feet Turning Blue?”
If your feet appear blue, purple, or pale and are cold to the touch, they may not receive sufficient blood supply. If this is the case, you may notice your feet turning blue when sitting or lying down.
In this blog, we will explore:
- Cause of Blue Feet and Toes
- Risk Factors of Blue Feet
- What You Can Do to Prevent PAD
- Treatment for PAD
- Why Timely Medical Attention Matters
Discolored feet can indicate a vascular condition called peripheral artery disease (PAD). This progressive condition can lead to reduced mobility and other serious consequences like heart attack, stroke and even amputation if left untreated. If you’ve noticed blue or purple discoloration in your legs or feet, consult a vascular specialist for further evaluation.
What Can Cause Feet and Toes to Turn Blue?
Blood circulation is essential for healing cuts and injuries in your lower extremities, and keeping your skin healthy and radiant. When your circulation is healthy, blood flows freely through the arteries and veins in your legs and feet, delivering oxygen and nutrients to the tissues and removing waste products. This allows wounds to heal quickly and efficiently, preventing skin problems such as dryness, scaling, and discoloration.
If you have poor circulation, your feet can turn blue/purple, along with wounds healing much slower or not at all. Additionally, poor circulation can lead to the accumulation of waste products in the tissues, which can further hinder healing and promote infection.
Blue feet and toes indicate a lack of oxygenated blood reaching your lower extremities. This condition is also called blue toe syndrome. Lack of oxygen causes tissues to change color, most commonly to a pale blue or purple shade.
Circulatory conditions that cause blue toe syndrome may include:
- Atherosclerosis: Major contributor to peripheral artery disease (PAD). The narrowing or blockage of arteries is caused by plaque accumulation along the inner arterial walls, resulting in restricted blood flow.
- Embolism: The obstruction of an artery by a foreign object, such as a blood clot (embolus) or air bubble.
- Medication: Anticoagulants (blood thinners) and thrombolytics (medications that break down clots) can cause blue toes. Recreational drugs like cocaine can also cause this condition.
The circulation issues that cause blue feet and toes can also lead to other symptoms, such as:
- A numb or tingling sensation in the legs and feet
- Muscle pain in the legs
- Leg or foot ulcers
- Sores or lesions on the feet
With so many potential causes of discoloration in the feet, an accurate diagnosis is crucial to ensure you receive the appropriate treatment.
Does PAD Cause Blue Feet and Toes?
Peripheral artery disease occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries of the legs and feet, hardening the vessels and restricting blood flow to the lower extremities. The resulting lack of oxygen can cause the feet and toes to turn blue.
While some people with PAD have mild or no symptoms, many experience symptoms that directly affect their mobility and quality of life. Possible indicators of PAD include:
- Pain or cramping in the hip, thigh, or calf muscles after walking or climbing stairs
- Leg heaviness or fatigue
- Coldness in the lower leg or foot, especially when compared with the other side
- Sores on the toes, feet, or legs that won’t heal
- Sudden color change in the legs
- Hair loss or slowed hair growth on the feet and legs
- Slowed toenail growth
- Erectile dysfunction
Taking the necessary steps to diagnose and treat PAD is essential. Because PAD is a progressive disease, the sooner you seek help, the better your chances of maintaining mobility and quality of life.
Risk Factors of Blue/Purple Feet or Toes
Blue or purple discoloration in the feet or toes usually occurs due to atherosclerosis, the narrowing of a peripheral artery due to plaque accumulation. Risk factors include age, genetics, and lifestyle.
- Age: PAD can develop at any age, but is more common in those over 60 years old.
- Family history: A family history of atherosclerotic conditions such as peripheral artery disease, stroke, or heart attack can increase your risk of developing PAD and blue/purple toes.
- Smoking: Smoking and secondhand smoke can damage blood vessels and increase blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
- Medical conditions: High blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, and kidney disease can increase the risk of PAD.
- Lifestyle issues: A sedentary lifestyle can increase the risk of diabetes and obesity. A fatty diet increases the amount of cholesterol and fats in the blood and raises blood pressure which can contribute to atherosclerosis.
Feet discoloration is a sign that treatment is necessary to alleviate pain and improve your level of physical activity. At USA Vascular Centers, our highly-skilled vascular specialists can help determine the extent of your vascular condition and provide appropriate treatment.
What You Can Do to Prevent PAD
Incorporating healthy habits into your lifestyle is one of the most important factors in preventing or improving the symptoms of PAD. While PAD cannot be reversed without treatment, taking proactive steps like the ones below can help reduce your risk of developing symptoms that impact your health and quality of life.
Quit smoking. Inhaling smoke harms your health in many ways, including increasing your risk of developing PAD.
Eat healthy. Adjust your diet to include meals rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains. Limit your consumption of sweetened beverages and foods containing sugar, salts, and saturated fats.
Manage underlying conditions that increase your PAD risk. If you have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes, seek appropriate treatment. These conditions can increase your risk of developing PAD and make treating PAD more difficult.
Exercise regularly. Regular physical activity can improve your vascular health, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and body weight. Before starting an exercise program, consult your doctor to discuss what level and duration of exercise is right for you. Your doctor may also recommend supervised exercise training (SET), which is specially designed for patients with claudication symptoms.
Limit alcohol consumption. Drinking too much alcohol can worsen PAD risk factors like high blood pressure and cholesterol. Alcohol should be consumed in moderation—one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.
Manage stress. Stress is inevitable, but unhealthy ways of dealing with stress, like overeating, smoking, and drinking, can all increase your risk of PAD. Practicing healthy stress-relief activities like meditation, breathing exercises, and quality sleep can help mitigate your risk of PAD.
Get Treatment. PAD treatment is highly effective at helping patients reduce symptoms and improve their overall vascular health.
Treatment for PAD
If you’ve been diagnosed with peripheral artery disease, patient-centered treatments are available to acquire relief. USA Vascular Centers offers the following non-surgical, minimally invasive outpatient PAD treatments at over 45 state-of-the-art clinics nationwide:
Angioplasty & Stent Placement: Angioplasty is a common procedure in which a tiny catheter is inserted into the affected artery. At the site of the blockage, a small balloon is inflated to compress the plaque against the artery walls and restore blood flow. If necessary, your doctor may recommend a stent placement. A stent is a small metal tube designed to expand; when placed in an affected artery, it provides permanent support to prevent future narrowing.
Atherectomy: Like angioplasty, atherectomy involves a tiny catheter inserted near the groin or upper thigh. The catheter is equipped with a blade or laser, which is used to cut away plaque accumulation inside the peripheral artery.
These advanced treatments do not require general anesthesia or a hospital stay. They are designed to treat PAD and restore healthy blood flow to your legs and feet.
Why Timely Medical Attention Matters
PAD symptoms do not improve on their own and can have life-threatening consequences if not addressed. If you are experiencing PAD symptoms, schedule a consultation with a vascular specialist as soon as possible.
PAD is a progressive disease. PAD causes pain, weakness, reduced mobility, and other symptoms that significantly impact your quality of life. Without treatment, these symptoms will only worsen over time.
Gangrene is a serious complication of untreated PAD. If an artery supplying your leg becomes completely blocked, tissue death (commonly of the toes) can result. In this case, amputating the affected area may be the only option to save your life.
Advanced PAD may require invasive surgery. Minimally invasive treatments such as atherectomy and angioplasty with stent placement may not be sufficient to resolve severe arterial blockage. Invasive surgery, such as bypass graft surgery, may be needed.
Treatment for severe PAD is costlier. Minimally invasive treatments are generally affordable and allow the patient to go home on the day of the procedure. Surgical procedures are more expensive and may require hospital stays and physical therapy.
Schedule Treatment with USA Vascular Centers
At USA Vascular Centers, we provide each patient with an individualized treatment plan based on their circumstances and condition. If your feet are blue or purple and you think you may have other symptoms of PAD, call USA Vascular Centers at 888.773.2193 or go online to schedule a consultation with our vascular specialists. Our team can determine if vascular treatment is right for you.
FAQs About Blue, Discolored Feet
Why are my feet discolored and cold?
Our blood supplies oxygen and nutrients while removing wastes from our bodily tissues. Feet and toes with healthy circulation have a natural color and are warm to the touch, but without oxygen-rich blood, the tissue becomes damaged, and the feet feel cold. Poor circulation can be caused by extreme cold or underlying health conditions such as peripheral artery disease (PAD), Raynaud’s disease, or Lupus, an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of the blood vessels (vasculitis).
When should I be worried about purple or blue toes?
Blue or purple discoloration indicates that your toes are not receiving enough oxygenated blood. If your toes consistently appear discolored and feel cold to the touch, consult a vascular specialist as soon as possible.
A lack of blood flow is usually caused by the narrowing of the peripheral arteries in your legs. This may be due to an underlying health condition or exposure to extreme cold. If the discoloration is due to cold exposure, rewarming can help restore circulation in the foot and toes. However, if the bluish discoloration is caused by an underlying condition like PAD, chances are the condition is severe, and you might need immediate treatment.