Have you noticed any recent changes in skin tone, color or texture on your legs or ankles?
If so, you may have an underlying vein disease caused by poor circulation to the legs. One symptom of vein disease is skin discoloration, and you are not alone, skin disease is more prevalent than you may realize. Millions of Americans suffer from a form of skin disease.
Symptoms of skin discoloration
Leg discoloration may present as follows:
- Red or brown patches on the skin of your lower leg, ankles or feet
- The skin may appear irritated as if it has a rash
- The skin may be visibly shiny and scaly
Should you be experiencing these symptoms, you may be presenting signs of advanced vein disease.
Seeking consultation from a vascular surgeon for evaluation and treatment is crucial for your health.
What causes skin discoloration on legs?
Skin discoloration on the legs, ankles, and feet may be caused by hemosiderin staining, a brownish pigment that is caused by the breakdown of hemoglobin, which then collects and makes the skin appear dark.
More commonly, discoloration is caused by a condition called Venous Stasis Dermatitis.
Venous stasis dermatitis
Venous Stasis Dermatitis is a skin condition that affects the lower extremities: the legs, ankles, and feet. It is caused by the build-up of fluid due to varicose veins, circulation issues or heart disease.
Venous stasis dermatitis can occur even if there are no visible varicose veins and is typically prevalent in people older than 50 years of age.
It may also be a symptom of another vein disease called Chronic Venous Insufficiency (CVI).
Chronic venous insufficiency (CVI)
Veins in the legs and feet have one-way valves that keep the blood from coming back down. In CVI, these valves and veins become weak. Weakened valves can prevent the blood from flowing back to the heart, allowing blood to pool in the veins.
As your body moves, pressure builds up in the vein, causing blood to leak into the surrounding muscles and skin.
Hemoglobin in the red blood cells is then broken down by the body, causing it to stain the surrounding tissues, leading to discoloration of the skin.
Symptoms of skin discoloration associated with CVI and venous stasis dermatitis
In addition to the reddish or brownish discoloration on the skin of your legs, feet, and ankles, you may experience other symptoms associated with CVI and/or Venous Stasis Dermatitis:
- Swelling around the area affected by skin discoloration
- Throbbing pain
- Varicose or spider veins
- Sores that appear scaly and crusty
- Hair loss on the ankles or shins
- Thickened skin
Risk factors of skin discoloration
Age is the number one risk factor for developing skin discoloration, specifically, if you are over the age of 50.
Additional conditions that may increase the likelihood of skin discoloration:
- Multiple pregnancies, as they increase pressure on veins
- Untreated, pre-existing varicose veins
- Being overweight, as it increases the stress on veins in the legs
- Cardiovascular conditions, such as peripheral arterial disease (PAD) and congestive heart failure
- Blood clots in leg veins
- Kidney failure
- Previous surgery or injury on lower legs
- A sedentary lifestyle with little to no exercise
What can you do about skin discoloration?
It is imperative to determine the underlying vein disease triggering your skin discoloration. In order to receive a proper diagnosis, a medical evaluation is necessary.
In addition, lifestyle changes can help manage skin discoloration and prevent it from getting worse.
The following are good habits to implement along with any treatment suggested by a vascular surgeon:
- Make exercise a regular part of your routine, especially if you don’t engage in any other physical activity.
- If your job has you standing or sitting in one place for a prolonged period, take breaks and move around every hour.
- Compression stockings can help prevent vein disorders.
- Avoid wearing clothes that restrict your blood flow.
- Avoid using products that contain harsh chemicals that can irritate your skin easily.
If you see skin discoloration on your legs and suspect that a vein disease might be the cause, seeking a medical consultation is critical.
What begins as stasis dermatitis, can progress and worsen over time, resulting in poorly-healing wounds called venous stasis ulcers.