Significance & Causes of Purple Feet

Purple feet are actually a very common occurrence and in the majority of cases, they reflect a sign of poor blood circulation. Let us know about the significance of purple feet and the possible causes for the same.

Acrocyanosis is the proper name for the discoloration of your hands and feet. This is a vasospastic disorder that affects the arteries that supply blood to the skin of your feet and hands. The term vasospasm refers to the spasming of the arteries that block the blood flow to the skin. When the blood flow gets blocked, the skin does not receive the required oxygen that is required, turning it into a purplish to dark blue in color. This is the most accepted mechanism behind having purple feet.

Significance & Causes of Purple Feet

What is the Significance of Purple Feet?

It is common that when you have a bruise, it temporarily turns that part of your skin into a shade of black, purple, or blue. These injuries generally heal by themselves and do not require any further treatment. However, if your foot starts to turn purple without having any bruise or bump, then you must consult a doctor because purple feet generally indicate that there is a problem with blood circulation and it can possibly be a serious condition. This is the main reason to discuss about the significance of purple feet – it needs attention as it could be a circulatory problem.

When the blood circulation in your feet is normal, the bruises and cuts heal quickly and your skin goes back to its natural color soon. In normal circumstances, the blood from your heart reaches your feet through the blood vessels. The blood travels through the veins from your heart and back to your heart and your lungs to take more oxygen and then start the next trip. So if something goes wrong in this process, you end up getting purple colored feet.

Significance of purple feet is mainly related to the possibility of certain underlying medical conditions that can affect blood circulation. Hence, it is important to know the possible causes of purple feet and its consequences to help in better management of purple feet.

What are the Possible Causes of Purple Feet?

While we discuss the implications or significance of purple feet, we must consider the possible causes leading to this condition.


One of the most commonest causes of purple feet is acrocyanosis. The term acrocyanosis means a bluish discoloration of the skin. Acrocyanosis is a condition that reduces the flow of blood to the arteries in your feet, due to reduced oxygen supply to the extremity. Generally, acrocyanosis is caused by spasming of the tiny blood vessels near the skin’s surface. These spasms cause the artery to constrict suddenly, which can significantly decrease or even stop altogether the blood flowing through that artery. Acrocyanosis not only affects your feet, but it can also impact your hands, causing the skin of your hands to turn purple or dark blue.

Unlike other conditions of skin discoloration, acrocyanosis is generally a painless condition without any prominent symptoms. Acrocyanosis is known to affect women more than men. Acrocyanosis can be caused due to emotional stress and extremely cold weather. You can avoid the condition by keeping your hands and feet covered and warm in cold temperatures.

Ischemic Foot

Ischemia is a condition where there is a decrease in the normal blood flow through your arteries. Ischemic foot means that there is a lack of sufficient supply of oxygen-rich blood going into your foot. This too is one of the possible causes of purple feet and can cause pain in the feet while walking or sometimes, even resting.

This condition can result from an accumulation of cholesterol plaque in one of the primary arteries that supply blood to the foot. Otherwise, it can also be a result of a blood clot that is blocking the blood flow in one of the main arteries of the foot. An ischemic foot can also result from an artery becoming injured, either from blunt trauma or a puncture wound.

Some of the common risk factors for developing an ischemic foot and include:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • History of vascular problems

These conditions can affect circulation and hence, may indirectly be some of the possible causes of purple feet. So how do you prevent ischemic feet? The key to preventing ischemic foot is to keep your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels under control. This can be done either by medications, through regular exercise, and by following a healthy diet and lifestyle. You should also keep your weight under control and stop smoking as smoking is a risk factor that can harm your blood vessels.

Raynaud’s Disease

The significance of purple feet may also mean that there is an underlying condition called Raynaud’s disease, which is quite similar to acrocyanosis. Both acrocyanosis and Raynaud’s disease are triggered by extreme cold conditions, causing the skin to turn purple or dark blue. The difference between both the conditions, though, is that the episodes of Raynaud’s disease come and go and last for only a couple of minutes at a time, while episodes of acrocyanosis tend to last longer and keep persisting.

Raynaud’s disease affects the smaller arteries in your toes and fingers. However, acrocyanosis impacts the larger blood vessels in your toes and fingers.

Raynaud’s disease is of two types – primary and secondary and both are possible causes of purple feet. Primary Raynaud’s disease is not linked to any underlying condition and is generally so mild that you may even fail to notice it. Secondary Raynaud’s disease is a more complicated disease and is usually a complication that results from another serious condition such as:

Women are more likely to get affected by Raynaud’s as compared to men and the condition typically begins during the teens or early 20’s.


Having purple feet may also be an indication that you are suffering from diabetes. Diabetes can affect your feet by not only reducing the normal blood circulation in the feet but also causing a loss of normal nerve function. It is one of the possible causes of purple feet, which presents with discoloration of your feet and toes, In this, the skin of your feet may turn purple, gray, or dark to light blue and present with rash too. Sometimes, the purple skin might be found in patches, while in others, the entire feet might turn purple.

In diabetes, your blood sugar levels tend to be higher than normal, which causes damage to the arterial walls, leading to circulation problems. Over a period of time, damage to the arterial walls can slow down or reduce normal blood circulation in your body, particularly to your lower extremities. You may also notice that there is a persistent swelling in your ankles or your lower legs.

It is important that you maintain blood sugar levels within normal range, take appropriate medicines and follow a healthy diet in order to prevent the complications of diabetes.


Purple feet can be related to underlying medical condition, hence has its own significance. The possible causes of purple feet are some of the For any discoloration, purple feet it is advisable to consult a doctor immediately.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:February 26, 2019

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