What is Acrocyanosis?

J.M. Willhite

Acrocyanosis, also known as pernio or chilblains, is a painful condition of the small blood vessels that results from impaired circulation. Induced by exposure to extreme temperature changes, acrocyanosis can increase one’s chances for developing dermal infection and tissue ulceration. Treatment for acrocyanosis generally involves topical medications and, in some cases, prescription medication to help ease symptom presentation.

Treatment for acrocyanosis may involve topical medications.
Treatment for acrocyanosis may involve topical medications.

Individuals who develop acrocyanosis generally experience an atypical physiological reaction to cold temperatures. When individuals with pernio warm their chilled skin too rapidly, the small blood vessels in the affected area expand rapidly, leading to a rush of blood to surrounding vessels and tissues. In addition to its characteristic symptoms, the influx of excess blood can also contribute to the development of blisters that ulcerate and rupture, increasing one’s chances for infection and complication development.

Someone with acrocyanosis needs to keep open lesions and wounds clean to prevent infection.
Someone with acrocyanosis needs to keep open lesions and wounds clean to prevent infection.

Aside from cold temperatures, there are a variety of other factors that may contribute to the onset of pernio symptoms. Regular exposure to humid conditions can also trigger symptom development in certain individuals. Individuals with poor circulation and low body weight may possess a greater risk for developing this circulatory condition. Tight fitting clothing and shoes may also contribute to symptom presentation due to the adverse effect these items may have on the affected extremities, such as legs and feet.

Topical medications that can help treat acrocyanosis can typically be purchased over-the-counter.
Topical medications that can help treat acrocyanosis can typically be purchased over-the-counter.

When individuals develop pronounced, severe acrocyanosis symptoms, a trip to the family physician may be in order. If blistered tissue becomes infected or adopts an abnormal appearance, medical attention should be sought to prevent a worsening of the condition. Persistent symptoms that do not subside in a reasonable amount of time should also be reported to a physician to prevent the possibility of complications. Individuals with existing conditions that can adversely affect their circulation, including diabetes, should seek medical attention for any dermal abnormalities or slow-healing lesions.

Slow-healing lesions and chronic leg ulcers are common in diabetics at risk of acrocyanosis.
Slow-healing lesions and chronic leg ulcers are common in diabetics at risk of acrocyanosis.

Symptomatic individuals will generally develop tell-tale signs of acrocyanosis. Most frequently, excessive circulation will induce itchy and inflamed patches in the affected area. Usually affecting the hands, feet, and the respective digits of each, pernio may cause localized swelling and sensations of burning or tingling. The affected areas may also show a discoloration, usually a bluish or purple-colored hue.

Acrocyanosis may occur as a result of exposure to extreme temperature changes.
Acrocyanosis may occur as a result of exposure to extreme temperature changes.

Most cases of acrocyanosis may be treated with over-the-counter (OTC) topical medications to alleviate discomfort caused by itching and inflammation, such as corticosteroidal lotions and creams. Individuals with moderate to severe cases of acrocyanosis may be prescribed medication to lower their blood pressure, which may aid with blood vessel expansion. Regardless of the severity of one’s symptoms, open lesions and wounds should be kept clean and covered to prevent infection.

People with moderate to severe cases of acrocyanosis may be prescribed medication to lower their blood pressure.
People with moderate to severe cases of acrocyanosis may be prescribed medication to lower their blood pressure.
Cold temperatures may contribute to the onset of pernio symptoms.
Cold temperatures may contribute to the onset of pernio symptoms.
Pernio may cause localized swelling in the legs and feet.
Pernio may cause localized swelling in the legs and feet.

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