In healthy individuals, the bright red of oxygenated blood circulating underneath your skin creates a pink tint around the fingertips. When blood is lost, the skin appears pale, but purple discoloration in the fingers indicate a lack of oxygen in the blood.
There are different medical conditions that may cause purple or blue fingers including cyanosis, which is the discoloration of the mouth, lips, torso, or head caused by a lack of oxygen in the blood. Extremities, like fingers, that turn blue from poor circulation may be cause for concern and should be evaluated by a doctor if the symptoms linger.
Purple Finger Causes
What causes fingers to turn purple or blue? Aside from a lack of oxygen in the blood, there may have been trauma that led to local bruising or a bleed into a tendon sheath. Some related conditions include Raynaud’s syndrome, vasospasm, atherosclerosis, thoracic outlet syndrome, a vibration-induced injury, Buerger’s disease, micro-emboli, venous thrombosis, frostbite, and cryoglobulinemia. Here are some more details about some of these conditions, their causes, symptoms, and how they can be treated.
The body needs oxygen to function and the circulatory system is designed to supply it to the entire body. This system also delivers nutrients, hormones, and medication to the tissues that need it. If you have poor circulation or decreased blood flow to parts of your body, there can be complications to your health.
Most times, poor circulation is noticed in the extremities, which are the furthest from the heart. Poor circulation is more of a consequence and sign of other health issues, and treating the underlying cause is essential to improving circulation. Symptoms of poor circulation include:
- Tingling and prickling, feeling of something crawling on your skin
- Cold sensation
- Pain and discomfort
- Sores that take a long time to heal
Poor circulation can be treated at home in some cases. There are supplements and vitamins that boost blood flow in milder cases. These natural products give the body what it needs to activate healthy circulation of blood.
Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, which are thought to improve blood circulation. Turmeric and Ginkgo Biloba are herbs that are also used to increase blood flow. Here are some more ways you can treat poor circulation in your fingers:
- Keep warm, especially in colder weather
- Quit smoking (nicotine constricts blood vessels)
- Eat foods high in fiber and low in saturated fats
- Take supplements for Omega 3 fatty acids, Vitamins A, B6, C, and E
- Exercise regularly
- Avoid cold and stress, especially if you have Raynaud’s
- Address the underlying cause
- Use treatments for carpal tunnel (stretch fingers, rotate wrists, take pain relief medication if necessary, avoid sleeping on hands)
A bluish cast to the skin and mucous membranes is known as cyanosis. Peripheral cyanosis is when this blueish discoloration occurs in the hands or feet. This condition is typically caused by low oxygen levels in the red blood cells or issues with getting oxygenated blood to the body.
Bright red blood is rich in oxygen, but a darker red or blue tinge of blood happens when there is a lower level of oxygen. This is what gives the skin a bluish tint. In some cases, cold temperatures can narrow blood vessels, leading to the blue-tinged skin. Warming or massaging these areas should return the normal color of the skin, but if the blue tint lasts for hours or days, there may be a more serious concern. Oxygen must be restored to body tissues as soon as possible to prevent serious problems.
If you have blue hands or feet and warming them up doesn’t restore the pinkish hue, you should seek medical attention immediately. Treatment methods for cyanosis involve identifying and correcting the underlying cause. This is done to restore the oxygenated blood flow to the parts of the body that are affected.
To treat cyanosis, there are medications such as antidepressants, anti-hypertension drugs, and erectile dysfunction drugs that can be used to help the blood vessels relax. You should avoid caffeine and nicotine, both of which can cause the constriction of blood vessels.
Raynaud’s disease causes your fingers and toes or other areas of the body to feel numb and cold during stressful situations or in response to cold temperatures. Smaller arteries that send blood to the skin get narrow, which limits blood circulation in the affected areas.
This condition is more common in women and people who live in colder climates. The treatment of Raynaud’s disease depends on how severe it is, and whether you have other health conditions. It is not a disabling disease, but it can affect your quality of life.
Symptoms of this disease include cold fingers or toes, color changes in the skin in response to cold temperatures or stress, and a tingling or stinging sensation when the body part is warmed or when stress is relieved.
The first sign during an attack of Raynaud’s is that the affected areas of your skin will turn white. After this, they will begin to feel cold and numb. As you react by warming up your skin and as circulation improves, the area may turn red, tingle, swell, or sting.
The exact cause of Raynaud’s is unknown, but doctors have found that blood vessels in the hands and feet overreact to cold temperatures or stress. Arteries in the fingers and toes narrow and temporarily limit blood circulation. Exposure to cold is also most likely to trigger an attack.
There are two main types of the condition: Primary Raynaud’s, which is not a result of a medical condition and is so mild that most patients do not seek medical attention. The second type is Secondary Raynaud’s, which is caused by an underlying problem. Signs and symptoms typically appear around age 40. Causes of secondary Raynaud’s include the following:
- Connective tissue diseases
- Disease of arteries
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Repetitive action or vibration
- Injuries to hands or feet
- Certain medications
To prevent Raynaud’s disease, you should bundle up when you go outdoors, warm up your car before getting in, and take precautions when you are indoors such as wearing socks and keeping your home at a warmer temperature.
A vasospasm is a condition where the blood vessels persistently contract, which narrows the arteries. This is known as vasoconstriction and it reduces blood flow. Vasospasms can occur anywhere in the body including the brain and the coronary artery. The condition can also occur in the arms and legs, and symptoms will present themselves as blue or purple fingers or toes.
Symptoms of a vasospasm include fever, neck stiffness, confusion, difficulty speaking, sharp pains, fingers or toes turning blue, and weakness on one side of the body. Some patients who’ve had a cerebral vasospasm may suffer from stroke-like symptoms including numbness or weakness on one side of the body, trouble seeing in one or both eyes, trouble walking, dizziness, or severe headaches with no known cause.
Depending on the severity of the vasospasms, treatment will be appropriately recommended. In mild cases of the condition affecting the body’s extremities, treatment will focus on preventing vascular construction (i.e. avoiding cold, vibrations, and stress). In more severe cases, treatment will focus on minimizing chest pain (for coronary artery complications) to prevent a heart attack.
These goals can be achieved by taking medications such as nitroglycerin, long-acting nitrates, calcium channel blockers, or beta-blockers. If vasospasms are caused by bleeding in the skull, treatment will depend on the cause, where the bleeding site is, and how large it is. Doctors will first treat the bleeding and then work with the patient to determine the best prevention options.
Achenbach’s Syndrome (Popped Blood Vessels in Finger)
When a blood vessel pops in the finger, the function of the fingers is compromised. Pain, inflammation, and swelling may render the hand immobile for a time. This condition is known as Achenbach’s syndrome. Unlike some of the other conditions mentioned above, this is a rare condition that occurs in the skin, not the cardiovascular system. The onset of Achenbach’s is sudden or is the result of a minor injury.
Symptoms include a sudden onset of intense burning pain felt at the site; localized swelling, inflammation, and redness; and bluish discoloration of the affected hand or finger.
Treatment for Achenbach’s syndrome is similar to the treatment of localized hematoma. These treatments may include the following:
- Cold compress to relieve the pain
- Warm compress to aid in absorption of pooled blood
- Pain medications, except those that cause further bleeding
This condition is defined as the painful inflammation of small blood vessels in the skin, caused by a response to repeated cold exposure. Chilblains, also known as pernio, can cause itching, red patches, and blistering of the hands and feet.
This condition is generally temporary, clearing up within one to three weeks, especially if the hands and feet are kept away from the cold. Some patients have seasonal reoccurrences of chilblains for years. The main issue with chilblains is that it can lead to an infection, which may cause severe damage. The cause of chilblains is unknown, but doctors have observed it as an abnormal reaction to cold exposure, followed by rewarming.
Symptoms of chilblains include itchy and red areas of the skin, blistering or skin ulcers, swelling, burning sensation in the area, changes in skin color from reddish to bluish, and pain.
To prevent chilblains, you should avoid or limit exposure to cold temperatures, dress in layers of loose clothing, cover your hands and feet at all times, don’t let your feet be wet for too long (especially outdoors), cover exposed skin when going outdoors, keep your home or workplace warm, and don’t smoke.
Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
Thoracic outlet syndrome is a group of disorders caused by compressed blood vessels or nerves between your collarbone and first rib (thoracic outlet). This can cause neck and shoulder pain, and numb and blue fingers.
This condition is typically caused by physical trauma from a car accident, repetitive injuries from physical activity, anatomical defects, and pregnancy. Causes may also include poor posture or pressure on your joints. It can be challenging for doctors to determine the cause of this syndrome as there are multiple options.
Symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome can vary depending on the structures that have been compressed. Generally, they include muscle wasting in the fleshy base of your thumb; weakening grip; pain or aches in the shoulder, neck, or hand; and numbness in the arm or fingers. Symptoms also include the following:
- Discoloration of the hand (blue or purple)
- Arm pain and swelling due to blood clots
- Weak or no pulse in the affected arm
- Cold extremities
- Arm fatigue
- Throbbing lump near the collarbone
Treatment of thoracic outlet syndrome includes physical therapy, pain relief, as well as surgery in more serious cases. To prevent this condition, you should avoid repetitive movements and lifting heavy objects. Weight loss can also help relieve pressure on your joints. You should also avoid carrying heavy bags over your shoulder, as this increases pressure on your thoracic outlet. Daily stretching and exercises that keep your muscles strong and flexible are also good preventative measures.
Lupus, an autoimmune disease, occurs when your body’s own immune system attacks your tissues and organs. Inflammation caused by this disease can affect your joints, kidneys, skin, blood cells, brain, heart, and lungs. This disease is challenging to diagnose because the symptoms often mimic other ailments. While there is no known cause for lupus, there are treatments that can help manage the signs and symptoms.
Symptoms of lupus include fatigue; fever; joint pain, swelling, and stiffness; a butterfly-shaped rash on the face; skin lesions that worsen with sun exposure (photosensitivity); shortness of breath; chest pain; dry eyes; confusion, memory loss, and headaches; and white or blue fingers and toes when exposed to stress or cold.
Treatment for lupus depends on the symptoms found in each patient. Since lupus can be caused by taking certain medications or dosages, your doctor may make changes to reduce the symptoms. Some medications used to control lupus include the following:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- Antimalarial drugs
- Rituximab (Rituxan)
Depending on the cause of blue or purple fingers, you may either be able to treat yourself at home or need medical intervention. If your fingers are blue for an extended period, and if you experience several of the symptoms mentioned above, you should see your doctor immediately. Getting diagnosed and dealing with your symptoms quickly is the most effective way to prevent more serious problems in the future and may give you faster relief.