What Makes Fingers Purple?
Normally, the bright red of oxygenated blood circulating under your skin creates a pink or reddish tint, especially around the finger tips. Pale skin indicates blood loss, while bluish or purple skin can stem from lack of oxygen in the blood. Purple or bluish-colored fingers can be caused by cyanosis, Raynaud's phenomenon and certain medical conditions. Discolored extremities may be cause for concern; contact your doctor if symptoms persist.
Red blood is oxygenated. It makes its way from the lungs -- where oxygen molecules attach to a transporting substance called hemoglobin -- to the various tissues and organs in the body via blood vessels called arteries. Oxygenated blood gives skin a pinkish hue. Veins are the pathways back to the heart and lungs; de-oxygenated blood travels to the heart and lungs through veins. This blood lacks oxygen, is darker, and can lend a bluish or purple tinge to the skin.
Though the darker color of de-oxygenated blood is normal while it is making its way to the lungs for more oxygen, noticeable purple or blue areas of skin can indicate a condition called cyanosis. Experiencing purple extremities, like the fingers, is known as acyanosis, while central cyanosis refers to discoloration of the head, mouth, lips or torso. Acyanosis may be normal in infants, but in adults it often indicates a problem with the heart, lungs or blood. Blood clots in the arteries, lung diseases, heart diseases or defects, exposure to cold air or water and high altitudes can all affect the amount of oxygen blood cells carry.
Another condition that can lead to purple fingers and toes is Raynaud's disease. This syndrome mostly affects women and leads to numbness and cold when the temperature drops, or the sufferer is under stress. These symptoms are caused by poor circulation; the arteries that supply blood to the skin narrow, restricting the flow of oxygenated blood. As of 2011, the reasons behind this arterial narrowing are unknown. An underlying condition, like rheumatoid arthritis or heart disease, can lead to Raynaud's phenomenon. However, this phenomenon can occur on its own, without an underlying disease.
Cyanosis and Raynaud's disease are usually managed at home, except in extreme circumstances. Both conditions can be triggered by cold weather. Dress warmly, and provide proper protection for your hands and feet, ensuring your clothing or shoes are not cutting off circulation. If your work activities include sitting in one position for extended periods of time or typing on a keyboard, take frequent breaks. Shake your hands and rotate your arms, allowing blood to flow down to your fingers. Medications like calcium channel blockers and vasodilators may be recommended by your doctor to combat Raynaud's disease. Heart, lung and blood vessel conditions may also require medication, and need to be addressed by a specialist.
Christy Callahan has been researching and writing in the integrative health care field for over five years, focusing on neuro-endocrinology. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in biology, earned credits toward a licensure in traditional Chinese medicine and is a certified Pilates and sport yoga instructor.