Purple or blue feet may be a sign of an injury or an underlying health condition, such as Raynaud’s disease, peripheral arterial disease, or frostbite.

Skin can become blue or purple due to bruising, but this color change can also indicate that not enough oxygen-rich blood is reaching the area. The feet are particularly prone to discoloration as they are further away from the heart.

Temporary changes in skin color can be harmless, but persistent or reoccurring discoloration in the feet might signify a health problem.

In this article, we look at some of the possible causes of purple feet and how to treat them.

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Sprains, strains, or dropping something onto the foot can cause bruising, which tends to make the skin appear blue or purple. Such an injury will also often cause pain and swelling. People can usually treat minor foot injuries at home using RICE therapy:

  • Rest. Avoid doing unnecessary activities and placing weight on the injured foot for prolonged periods.
  • Ice. Apply an ice pack to the injured foot.
  • Compression. Wrap the injured foot in a bandage. The bandage should fit snugly but not be tight enough to prevent blood circulation.
  • Elevation. Use pillows or a footstool to raise the foot whenever possible.

Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medications, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, can help reduce pain and swelling.

For more severe injuries, a doctor may order an X-ray to check for broken bones in the foot. Treatment for a broken foot depends on the type and severity of the fracture.

Vasculitis is inflammation of the blood vessels. When vasculitis occurs in the feet, it can cause a rash in the form of red or purple dots on the skin. This rash can appear on other parts of the body too. It may also cause numbness, tingling, and loss of strength in the foot.

People who are at risk of developing vasculitis include:

  • those with a family history of vasculitis
  • those who take certain medications, such as Hydralazine and Levamisole
  • smokers
  • those with autoimmune diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and scleroderma

Generally speaking, over-the-counter pain medicines can relieve symptoms of mild vasculitis. For more serious cases, a doctor may prescribe medicines.

Raynaud’s disease, also known as Raynaud’s phenomenon, is a common condition that can cause the blood vessels in the hands or feet to temporarily spasm and constrict. This behavior blocks the flow of blood, which can lead to the affected areas turning blue, purple, red, or white.

Attacks of Raynaud’s disease can also cause symptoms that include pain, numbness, and pins and needles. These attacks can make it difficult for a person to use their feet or fingers.

Cold temperatures, anxiety, and stress can trigger Raynaud’s. Attacks tend to be short-lived and usually resolve once a person warms up or the stress subsides.

Most cases of Raynaud’s are mild. Keeping the feet and hands warm and dry during cold weather and minimizing stress can help prevent attacks. For people with more severe Raynaud’s, a doctor may prescribe medication to help control symptoms.

Raynaud’s can also be a symptom of another health condition, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, inflammatory myositis, and Sjogren’s syndrome. Anyone experiencing symptoms of Raynaud’s disease should see a doctor to rule out other conditions.

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a narrowing of the arteries outside the core of the body. It restricts blood flow to some of the outer parts of the body, including the limbs.

PAD often affects the legs, and people may experience symptoms that include pain, cramping, tingling, and weakness. Other symptoms include:

  • shiny skin
  • hair loss
  • a painful ache in the legs when walking (that subsides with rest)
  • cold or numb toes

The reduced blood flow can also cause the legs and feet to turn blue or purple gradually. However, this may be harder to see on darker skin. Some people with PAD may not have any symptoms at all.

People who are at risk of developing PAD include:

  • smokers
  • those with high blood pressure
  • those with high cholesterol
  • those with diabetes
  • those who are aged 60 years and above

Anyone with symptoms of PAD should see a doctor. Without treatment, the condition can progress and lead to serious complications, such as severe ischemia and gangrene.

In very severe cases, a doctor may need to amputate part of the leg or foot. PAD also increases the risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

Lifestyle changes, medications, and surgical interventions can slow or halt the progression of the condition and reduce the risk of complications. Beneficial lifestyle measures include doing regular exercise, avoiding tobacco smoking, and eating a healthy diet.

Frostbite is damage to the skin and tissues that results from exposure to freezing temperatures. The body’s extremities, such as the hands and feet, are especially prone to frostbite.

Signs of frostbite can include:

  • discoloration of the skin, which may be gray, blue, or purple
  • pins and needles
  • pain
  • numbness
  • skin that feels unusually hard or resembles wax in appearance

Frostbite can permanently damage the body’s tissues. In extreme cases, a doctor may need to amputate the affected part of the body.

To avoid frostbite:

  • Dress warmly and in layers when going outside in the cold. Wear warm socks and water-resistant boots and cover all exposed skin when it is extremely cold.
  • During the cold months, avoid going outside if local weather authorities issue frostbite warnings.
  • Avoid getting the hands or feet wet when out in the cold. If they do get wet, go inside and dry the skin.
  • Check the skin every so often for signs of pain, discoloration, or numbness. Monitor children’s skin and ensure that they are staying warm and dry when playing outside in the cold.

People with conditions that affect blood circulation have a higher risk of frostbite. Risk factors include:

  • PAD
  • diabetes
  • Raynaud’s disease
  • previous frostbite

Anyone who has signs or symptoms of frostbite after being out in the cold should seek immediate medical attention.

Varicose veins are are enlarged, swollen, twisting veins that often appear blue or dark purple in color. They typically occur on the legs and feet.

Other symptoms include:

  • aching, heavy and uncomfortable legs
  • swollen feet and ankles
  • burning or throbbing sensation in the legs
  • muscle cramp in the legs, particularly at night
  • dry, itchy and thin skin over the affected vein

Risk factors for developing varicose veins are:

  • being female
  • having a close family member with varicose veins
  • being older
  • being overweight
  • having a job that involves long periods of standing
  • being pregnant
  • other conditions

People can ease symptoms of varicose veins by avoiding standing or sitting for too long and exercising regularly.

Common treatment options for varicose veins include endothermal ablation, which involves using heat to seal affected veins, and sclerotherapy, which sees doctors use a special foam to close the veins. Surgical removal of varicose veins is also possible.

Below are some commonly asked questions about purple feet.

What causes a person’s feet to turn purple?

If a person’s feet turn purple, there are many possible causes including:

  • foot injury
  • Raynaud’s disease
  • lupus
  • peripheral artery disease
  • diabetes
  • frostbite

Does diabetes make a person’s feet purple?

Yes. In people with diabetes, uncontrolled blood sugar levels can cause the blood vessels in the legs and feet to become narrow and stiff. The resulting reduction in blood flow to this region can lead to feet that are purple or blue in color.

How can a person fix poor circulation in their feet?

To fix or improve poor circulation in the feet, a person should first consult a doctor who may be able to identify an underlying condition that may be causing it.

If doctors cannot pinpoint a cause, however, the following self-care strategies may help:

  • Moving more: A 2020 study found that simple leg stretches can help improve vascular function after 12 weeks.
  • Massaging the feet: This can stimulate circulation. People with Raynaud’s may also find it helps prevent or shorten attacks.
  • Wearing compression socks: They apply pressure to the legs and feet, forcing blood to travel back toward the heart.
  • Staying warm: If cold conditions exacerbate symptoms, keep the home at a comfortable temperature and wrap up in layers.

There are many possible causes of purple feet. Skin discoloration can result from bruising following a minor injury. However, purple or blue skin can also indicate a restriction of blood flow to the feet, and this can be a symptom of an underlying health condition.

Conditions that can affect blood circulation in the feet include Raynaud’s disease, PAD, lupus, diabetes, and frostbite. Anyone who experiences persistent or reoccurring discoloration of the feet should see a doctor.

People with chronic conditions that can affect blood circulation should go for regular medical checkups and follow their doctor’s advice for managing their symptoms.