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Have you been suffering from persistent discoloration and swelling of the feet? You might even have asked a doctor about the problem and still walked away without a diagnosis. What could be going on?

Raynaud's Phenomenon 

Raynaud's phenomenon is a fairly common problem that temporarily causes blood vessels within the extremities to become constricted and blood flow to decrease. It is estimated to affect up to 20 percent of Europe's population. While the cause of Raynaud's phenomenon is still unknown, both cold temperatures and stress are known triggers.

Raynaud's phenomenon is sometimes identified as being caused by another condition, such as connective tissue disorders, atherosclerosis, pulmonary hypertension, or carpal tunnel syndrome. Smoking can likewise induce Raynaud's disease, as can certain medications. Where no cause is identified, a diagnosis of primary Raynaud's disease is made. 

Symptoms of Raynaud's phenomenon include:

  • Cold extremities
  • A purple, blue, red, or white color of the affected skin
  • Tingling or "pins and needles"
  • When your skin warms up again, you may experience swelling as well


A blue discoloration of the skin is known as cyanosis, and it is typically the result of low oxygen levels within the red blood cells. Acrocyanosis, a blue discoloration of the extremities, is a much less common condition than Raynaud's disease. Its symptoms typically include:

  • Persistent blueness of the hands, feet, and/or knees
  • This is generally painless
  • The affected body parts may feel cold and clammy
  • Some swelling may be present, particularly in warmer conditions

Acrocyanosis is more common in women than in men, and also typically rears its head before a person turns 25. 


Erythromelalgia, also known as Mitchell's disease, is even rarer than the last two conditions. Characterized by a burning pain in the affected area along with a reddish discoloration of the feet and legs, this vascular peripheral pain disorder also causes significant swelling as the blood vessels temporarily become blocked. Erythromelalgia is, again, more common in women. Though it most often shows up in middle age, people of any age can be affected. 


Anyone suffering from chronic discoloration, along with possible pain and swelling, of the feet clearly does not suffer from frostbite. In case anyone with acute symptoms who was also recently exposed to extremely cold temperatures is reading along, we should also mention this, however. In frostbite, the skin and underlying tissues are damaged by exposure to excessively cold temperatures. It progresses from frostnip, a temporary and mild form, to superficial and then severe frostbite. 

Symptoms include:

  • Feeling cold
  • Tingling feelings in the affected area
  • Blue, red, white, purple, gray, or yellow discoloration of the skin
  • Numbness and restricted mobility (where relevant, as it would be in the feet)
  • A strange, wax-like appearance of the skin

It's important to note that people who have been frostnipped in the past continue to be especially sensitive to cold temperatures, and experience similar symptoms more easily than those who have not. People who often have cold, numb, swollen, and discolored feet may, sometimes, have been exposed to frostnip or mild frostbite in the past, without knowing.

What Now?

Raynaud's phenomenon is so common and easily recognizable that it is highly unlikely anyone seeking medical attention for it will be misdiagnosed. Acrocyanosis and erythromelalgia are rare enough that your doctor may not think of them when you seek a diagnosis for persistently discolored and swollen feet, on the other hand — so mentioning them may help your diagnosis along. (There is no clear treatment for either unless they are caused by an underlying disorder, which can then be treated in order to provide relief.) If you think you may previously have suffered mild frostbite, you can also mention this to your doctor. 

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