Leg and Foot Discoloration: Peripheral Artery Disease Could be The Cause
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a serious health condition that can cause a range of painful symptoms. The most common is claudication: muscle pain or weakness that begins with physical activity, such as walking, and stops within minutes after resting. Additional potential symptoms include skin discoloration on the legs and feet. While this may seem like a minor issue, it can be indicative of the major health risks associated with PAD.
PAD can impact your ability to walk, climb stairs, and perform daily activities. About 11% of patients with PAD develop chronic limb-threatening ischemia (CLTI), a condition resulting from inadequate blood supply due to poor circulation. CLTI makes PAD leg pain constant, no matter whether you’re resting or walking, and can lead to limb amputation if not treated. In addition, PAD places you at risk for several dangerous health issues, including heart attack and stroke.
The good news is that treatments to widen narrowed arteries can make a big difference in slowing the progression of PAD. A 2022 study published in the American Heart Association’s Newsroom found that the quality of life for PAD patients improved dramatically following minimally invasive PAD treatments. Patients who underwent treatment to improve blood flow to the legs and feet reported a major decrease in leg pain.
If you experience leg discoloration or other PAD symptoms, we recommend consulting a vascular specialist. At USA Vascular Centers, we care about your vascular health and overall quality of life. Our leading experts can work with you to establish a personalized treatment plan.
Is Leg Discoloration Serious?
Leg discoloration can be a sign of a serious condition, such as peripheral artery disease or diabetes. If you smoke, are over age 50, have diabetes, or live with any other PAD risk factors, we recommend checking your legs often to spot signs of lower leg discoloration early. Other causes of skin discoloration on the legs are less serious, like eczema, sunburn, or a birthmark.
Finding out if your lower leg discoloration is PAD-related can help you get the treatment you need. PAD does not improve on its own. Without treatment to open the narrowed arteries, plaque will continue to stick to the artery walls, forming severe blockages that lead to tissue death (gangrene), amputation, and even death.
In addition, PAD is linked to an increased risk of coronary artery disease (CAD) and cerebrovascular disease, which can lead to heart attack and stroke. By beginning PAD treatment as soon as possible, you can start reducing your risk of vascular disease complications. Spotting and seeking treatment for skin discoloration on your legs is a step in the right direction.
How Does PAD Cause Leg Discoloration?
PAD is most often caused by atherosclerosis, a narrowing or blockage of the arteries due to plaque buildup. When arteries leading to the legs develop atherosclerosis, you may experience insufficient blood flow to your lower extremities. Without adequate blood flow, your tissues won’t receive the oxygen and nutrients they need to function properly. This is what causes leg pain and other symptoms of poor circulation.
Poor circulation due to PAD can also lead to blood vessels that burst near the surface of the skin, arterial ulcers, and tissue damage. These issues can change the appearance of your skin and lead to leg discoloration.
Skin discoloration on the lower extremities may appear as purple or blue legs. If you develop red, blue, or purple feet or legs, contact the team at USA Vascular Centers for a screening. However, if one of your legs turns red or purple and swells up, seek emergency medical care. Swelling combined with leg discoloration can be signs of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical intervention.
What Does Leg Discoloration Due to Poor Circulation Look Like?
When skin discoloration on the legs is PAD-related, your legs might look reddish, purple, or blue. However, because we all have different skin colors, tones, and textures, there may not be an obvious purple discoloration on the legs or blue discoloration of the skin on the legs when you have PAD. You know your own skin best. If you realize the color on one or both of your legs looks abnormal, reach out to one of our trusted vascular doctors. By the time you experience leg discoloration due to poor circulation, you’re likely on the way to moderate or advanced PAD. Our vascular doctors are highly skilled in quickly diagnosing PAD using ankle-brachial index (ABI) tests and angiograms.
An ABI test measures and compares the blood pressure in your arm and ankle. The resulting number gives your provider insight into whether or not you have a blockage. Angiograms are images taken of the vascular system using contrast dye, which can help our doctors pinpoint the precise location of a blockage.
How to Treat Leg and Lower Extremity Discoloration Caused by PAD
PAD treatment aims to restore blood flow to the lower extremities. After treatment, your leg discoloration and other symptoms can begin to improve as blood flows more freely to your lower limbs.
At USA Vascular Centers, PAD treatment has three primary goals:
- Alleviate symptoms
- Reduce risks of heart attack, stroke, and limb amputation
- Improve your quality of life
We believe in working individually with each of our patients to develop a personalized treatment plan. Once established, your treatment plan may include lifestyle modifications, medications, minimally invasive procedures, or a combination of these.
Your arteries may benefit from making certain lifestyle changes. Our experts generally recommend maintaining a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI), eating a well-rounded diet, exercising regularly, quitting smoking, and managing underlying health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol levels.
Our doctors may prescribe medications to promote better blood circulation throughout the body. If you are prescribed medications, be sure to take them exactly as instructed.
Minimally Invasive Procedures
If a severe blockage in your arteries is present, your vascular specialist may recommend treatment to restore blood flow to your legs. At USA Vascular Centers, we perform a range of minimally invasive outpatient treatments, including angioplasty, stent placement, and atherectomy. In each of these non-surgical procedures, one of our skilled interventional radiologists will guide a catheter into your vascular system and use different techniques to widen your arteries. You won’t need stitches, general anesthesia, or a hospital stay to receive these treatments. Instead, they’re performed in our state-of-the-art cath labs at our outpatient centers, which are certified by the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care (AAAHC). This certification reflects our commitment to excellence and allows us to provide care to Medicare and Medicaid patients.
When you are ready to explore treatment options for lower leg discoloration due to PAD, we encourage you to schedule an appointment at one of our accredited treatment centers.
Schedule a Consultation With USA Vascular Today
If discoloration on the feet or legs is caused by peripheral artery disease, our vascular specialists can help. Our PAD experts offer non-surgical treatment that can improve your symptoms and quality of life.
We understand that a PAD diagnosis can be scary. The good news is that treatment can allow you to live a more active life. Make an appointment today to discover which treatment option is best for you.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Vascular doctors diagnose and treat poor circulation in the legs. The vascular system includes your arteries, veins, and capillaries. Vascular doctors care for these blood vessels in many ways, including education, preventative care, diagnosis, and treatment.
Educating patients on preventative care helps prevent problems from developing in the first place. However, if symptoms have already arisen, vascular doctors can diagnose the root of the issue and recommend solutions. If a vascular doctor sees lower leg discoloration, for example, she can perform an ankle-brachial index test or angiography. This will help the doctordiagnose peripheral artery disease. A range of treatments can then be offered to help treat vascular conditions.
Vascular doctors routinely perform angioplasty, stent placement, and atherectomy procedures. Vascular doctors at USA Vascular Centers are interventional radiologists that specialize in peripheral artery disease.
There are many indicators of poor circulation in the legs. You might notice swelling in your feet or ankles, leg pain, open sores, loss of leg hair, or purple skin discoloration on your legs. These are all signs that your feet and legs aren’t getting enough oxygen and nutrients from your blood.
It’s important to see a vascular doctor, like our specialsts at USA Vascular Centers, if you have any signs of leg discoloration. Vascular doctors can diagnose the underlying problem and provide treatment to help reduce symptoms and improve your vascular health. Without treatment, symptoms are likely to worsen.
If your leg swells up rapidly, seek emergency medical care. Swelling, warm leg temperatures, and reddish skin discoloration on the legs can be symptoms of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention.
Physical exams done to check for leg discoloration due to poor circulation. During a physical exam, the temperature of your skin and the strength of the pulse is checked in your feet and ankles. They may also assess your feet and legs for sores or slow-healing wounds.
Based on the results of a physical exam, the doctor may decide to run tests to help diagnose PAD or another underlying disease. Vascular doctors utilize several methods to help diagnose vascular conditions, including blood tests, ankle-brachial index tests, Doppler ultrasounds, and angiography. If you have PAD, these tests will also help the vascular doctor pinpoint exactly where your arteries aren’t letting enough blood through.
Following a diagnosis, the vascular doctor will recommend treatment, such as a procedure to open narrowed arteries. Most patients with PAD can have their symptoms alleviated with non-surgical treatment. Once healthy blood flow is restored to the arteries in your legs and feet, the symptoms of poor leg circulation usually start to improve. The team at USA Vascular Centers is here to help with all diagnoses and treatment of leg discoloration due to poor circulation.