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Fingers that change color

Blanching of the fingers; Fingers - pale; Toes that change color; Toes - pale

 

Fingers or toes may change color when they are exposed to cold temperatures or stress, or when there is a problem with their blood supply.

Causes

 

These conditions can cause fingers or toes to change color:

  • Buerger disease
  • Chilblains. Painful inflammation of small blood vessels.
  • Cryoglobulinemia
  • Frostbite
  • Necrotizing vasculitis
  • Peripheral artery disease
  • Raynaud phenomenon. Sudden change in the finger color ranges from pale to red to blue.
  • Scleroderma
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus

 

Home Care

 

Avoid smoking.

Avoid exposure to cold in any form. Wear mittens or gloves outdoors and when handling ice or frozen food. Avoid getting chilled, which may happen following any active recreational sport or other physical activity. Wear comfortable, roomy shoes and wool socks. When outside, always wear shoes.

 

When to Contact a Medical Professional

 

Call your health care provider for an appointment if:

  • Your fingers change color and the cause is not known.
  • Your fingers or toes turn black or the skin breaks.

 

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

 

Your provider will perform a physical examination, which will include close examination of your hands, arms, and fingers.

Your provider will ask questions about your medical history and symptoms, including:

  • Did the fingers or toes suddenly change color?
  • Has the color change occurred before?
  • Does the cold or changes in your emotions cause your fingers or toes to turn white or blue?
  • Did the skin color changes occur after you had anesthesia?
  • Do you smoke?
  • Do you have other symptoms such as finger pain? Arm or leg pain? A change in the texture of your skin? Loss of hair on your arms or hands?

Tests that may be done include:

  • Antinuclear antibody blood test
  • Blood differential
  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Comprehensive metabolic panel
  • Duplex Doppler ultrasound of the arteries to the extremities
  • Serum cryoglobulins
  • Serum protein electrophoresis
  • Urinalysis
  • X-ray of your hands and feet

Treatment depends on the underlying cause.

 

 

References

Olin JW. Other peripheral arterial diseases. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 80.

Sayeed SM, Ferri FF. Raynaud's phenomenon. In: Ferri FF, ed. Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2015. 1st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2015:Appendix V. Pages 1017-8.e1.

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                Review Date: 4/11/2015

                Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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