If your ankles are discolored, especially if they’re an orange-red-brown combination, you’re probably dealing with poor circulation that’s reached the advanced stage called venous stasis dermatitis. Fortunately, treatments exist that can help the problem and prevent it from progressing further.
At Comprehensive Vascular Care, with convenient locations in Southfield and Novi, Michigan, our expert team of board-certified vascular and endovascular surgeons understand the seriousness of vein disease and offer treatments designed to improve your vein health and reduce your risk for cardiac and vascular complications. They also want their patients to be educated about their condition, including knowing warning signs like ankle discoloration, so they’ve put together this guide to get you in the know.
The progression of vein disease
Vein disease occurs in a number of stages, starting with damage that leads to poor blood circulation. Your heart pumps out oxygenated blood that’s carried by arteries to your body’s tissues, delivering both oxygen and nutrients to keep them healthy. Once the oxygen is delivered, the deoxygenated blood has to return to the heart, and it does so through the network of veins. The blood, though, literally has an uphill battle — it has to flow against the pull of gravity.
Your body handles the problem in two separate ways. First, your calf and thigh muscles contract, forcing the blood forward and upward. Second, the veins contain valves that limit the blood to one-way flow. Unfortunately, the vein walls can sustain damage from things like high blood pressure or injury, which, in turn, can damage the valves. If this happens, blood flow becomes sluggish, and blood pools around the damaged valves. This is referred to as chronic venous insufficiency (CVI).
If the superficial veins swell from pooling blood, the pressure causes colored, ropy protrusions to form on the skin, usually on the legs. Known as varicose veins, this is the next stage in the progression. Varicose veins can be purely a cosmetic issue, or they can cause a sense of “heaviness” in the legs, as well as itching and burning sensations. They can also lead to blood clots in the deep veins called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). This can be potentially life-threatening; if a clot detaches from the vein wall, it can travel to the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism.
If you don’t treat varicose veins, DVT, or the underlying insufficiency, vein disease progresses to painful leg swelling (edema) and intense itching from fluid leaking into the surrounding tissues. Edema then progresses to venous stasis dermatitis, which causes discoloration and other changes in appearance of the skin on your legs.
The earliest discoloration appears as orange-brown spots, sometimes referred to as cayenne pepper spots. When pressure from the edema causes capillaries to burst, the result is colored patches. The discoloration may change to red or brown around your ankles and lower legs due to hemosiderin. This pigment forms when the blood’s hemoglobin breaks down, and it builds up in the tissues. At the same time, you may also notice shiny, scaly, or thickened skin and persistent dryness and itchiness.
Venous stasis dermatitis is not the end of the line in vein disease, though. Left untreated, the edema moves up the calf, causing open sores known as venous ulcers to form on the lower legs and tops of feet. Ulcers are easily infected and slow to heal, and they leave scars behind once they’ve closed up. If you have a severe case of stasis dermatitis, your skin changes may become permanent.
How to treat venous stasis dermatitis
Here at Comprehensive Vascular Care, your physician generally starts by helping you work on lifestyle changes, such as avoiding long periods of standing or sitting and incorporating more physical activity into your day. They also may recommend:
- Compression stockings to reduce swelling, keep blood flowing, and prevent clots
- Elevating legs above the heart to aid blood flow when at rest or sleeping
- Adopting a low-salt diet (decreases fluid retention)
- Adding a vitamin C supplement to keep blood vessels flexible and healthy
- A topical corticosteroid to calm inflammation
- An oral or topical antibiotic if ulcers become infected
In addition, we offer endovenous ablation as a treatment option. It destroys damaged veins without having to remove them, by using heat energy to seal the vein. Your blood is then rerouted to nearby healthy veins to improve your circulation.
Should you be concerned about your ankle discoloration? Emphatically, yes! If your vein disease has progressed to the stage where you see orange and reddish skin, you need medical treatment as soon as you can make an appointment. Give Comprehensive Vascular Care a call at either of our locations to schedule that appointment with one of our vein specialists, or book online with us today.