By: Dr. P. Roman Burk
A couple of my aunts really love the color purple and when they go to a wedding, they always wear purple hats. However, while purple is wonderful for hats, toes should definitely not be purple. So, if one of your toes has suddenly turned this deep, colorful shade, you need to pay attention. There are several reasons why toes turn purple including:
If you know you’ve banged up your toe playing soccer or tripping over a small branch while hiking, then a black/purplish toe may just indicate a bruise caused by a subungual hematoma. Typically, bruises change color over time which is a good indicator that you’re just dealing with a bruise. However, if the toenail is badly bruised, you may need to visit a podiatrist who can drill a small hole in the nail to allow the blood to leak out and relieve painful pressure.
Chilblains are caused by small blood vessels in the skin becoming inflamed, usually in response to exposure to cold. Chilblains are itchy and can cause red patches, swelling, and blistering on the feet. They can also turn the skin a shade of dark blue or purple. While painful, chilblains usually heal quickly and don’t cause permanent problems.
Purple Toes, No Pain
If you have blue or purple toes and no associated pain, the cause could be a condition called Raynaud’s Syndrome. Raynaud’s Disease is commonly brought on by cold weather or stress and can cause the toes to turn a bluish, red or purple color. If this condition is not associated with any other disease (Primary Raynaud’s) then it won’t result in any tissue damage.
Anemia is a condition caused by a decrease in the amount of an oxygen-carrying protein called hemoglobin that is found in red blood cells. Although there are many types of anemia, the most common one is caused by an iron-deficiency. Severe cases of anemia may cause blue toenails.
Purple Toe Syndrome
Purple Toe Syndrome (also known as trash foot) is one of the more serious conditions that can result in a toe suddenly turning purple or blue without any obvious cause. The most common reason for Purple Toe Syndrome is a blockage of blood vessels in the foot. This blockage usually occurs because of a buildup of plaque in the blood vessels reducing blood circulation to one or more toes. In extreme cases, gangrene can develop leading to the amputation of dead tissues.
- Medications – Purple Toe Syndrome has been connected to a rare complication associated with certain medications prescribed to prevent blood clots.
Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)/Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD)
PAD and PVD result from clogged blood vessels in the lower part of the body. The usual symptoms are pain and cramping in the legs, but in more serious cases, the toes may turn a bluish color. When the oxygenated blood supply is cut off from the feet and toes, the tissues in this area begin to die. PAD and PVD are easily treatable conditions if medical attention is sought early enough.
Severe kidney damage can lead to anoxia (a deficiency of oxygen reaching the tissues) and ischemia (an inadequate blood supply to bodily organs). The onset of blue toenails has been linked to both anoxia and ischemia.
Acral Lentiginous Melanoma (ALM) is a rare type of skin cancer that is easy to overlook as it looks like a bruise under a finger or toe nail. The discoloration may be black, brown, or purple. If you develop a discoloration under a nail, it’s best to have it checked out by a doctor. The famous Reggae musician, Bob Marley, passed away in 1981 from complications of ALM melanoma which originated under a toenail.
Purple Toe – The Takeaway
If you discover you have a purple toe, you should definitely pay attention. It’s advisable to seek a professional opinion on what may be causing your colorful toe. If you’re located in the Treasure Valley, give us a call to set an appointment with one of our friendly foot doctors who will answer all of your questions and give you options for treatment. We have clinics in Meridian, Eagle, Nampa, and Caldwell.
About Dr. Roman Burk:
Dr. Roman Burk is a podiatrist at Rocky Mountain Foot and Ankle. He completed his Doctor of Podiatric Medicine degree from Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 2004. Dr. Burk is accepting new patients.