What is Mottled Skin?

Allison Boelcke

Mottled skin, technically referred to as dyschromia, is a condition in which the skin becomes discolored in irregular patches. It is different than other skin discolorations because it is expressly the result of changes in the blood vessels. Although mottling of the skin does not cause any physical pain, it can be a sign of an underlying condition and could also result in self-consciousness or psychological distress.

Individuals who experience mottled skin should be especially careful to wear protective gloves and clothing when exposed to the cold and heat.
Individuals who experience mottled skin should be especially careful to wear protective gloves and clothing when exposed to the cold and heat.

Blood vessels are a series of narrow tubes that help transport blood from the heart throughout the rest of the body and back again to the heart. Some blood vessels are located just beneath the skin’s surface, which can make them visible in certain individuals with light colored skin. If any condition results in changes to the blood vessels, they can end up causing mottled skin. Common causes of changes to the blood vessels include increases or decreases in body temperature, aging, blood disorders, or even heart disease.

A doctor should be consulted to determine the underlying cause of mottled skin.
A doctor should be consulted to determine the underlying cause of mottled skin.

The main symptom of mottled skin is red or purple patches that occur on any area of the skin. These changes generally occur once the blood vessels are constricted. The blood vessels cannot properly distribute blood throughout the body and blood may build up in certain areas close to the skin’s surface.

Mottled skin generally doesn't cause pain, but can be a sign of an underlying condition.
Mottled skin generally doesn't cause pain, but can be a sign of an underlying condition.

Mottled skin is typically treated by having a doctor determine the underlying cause. He or she may recommend that patients who constantly get skin mottling should be especially careful to wear protective gloves and other clothing when their skin is going to be exposed to heat or cold. If the mottling is due to a specific disorder, it will generally subside once the underlying disorder is treated.

Changes in blood vessels near the skin's surface can cause mottled skin.
Changes in blood vessels near the skin's surface can cause mottled skin.

People with less skin pigmentation are generally at a higher risk for skin mottling than those with darker complexions. This is simply due to the fact that the blood vessels are typically much more visible in people with more translucent skin. The red or purple discoloration may not be as noticeable in dark skin; however, those with darker complexions may still experience blood vessel changes, just without the visible evidence.

In rare cases, skin mottling can be a sign of a serious immediate health concern. If the mottling comes on suddenly and appears with other symptoms, such as difficulty breathing or pain in the area, it could be a sign of physical shock. In these cases, a doctor will need to find out immediately if the person has any other serious preexisting conditions or injuries or it could be fatal if not treated.

Mottled skin may appear similar to a rash.
Mottled skin may appear similar to a rash.

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Discussion Comments


When I was born, doctors said I had port-wine stain birthmarks- half my forehead is red, I have a red splotch between my eyes, I have like a red mark (looks like a red rash) on my neck/chest, lower abdomen (starts near my belly button and curves around and up my back), and both my legs down to my feet and half of the bottom of my left foot are all red. They have faded a lot during the years (I'm now 19) and you can only really see the red on my forehead when I'm upset/angry/not wearing foundation and I often have to point out my birthmarks. You can also see a lot of my veins on my stomach and legs, I bruise easily on my legs and I've had varicose veins covering my legs since I was a teenager. In recent years, I've been looking into birthmarks more and I've realized what I have, doesn't really describe any sort of birthmark. (Well, perhaps the one of my forehead.)

My mum is a midwife and the other day a baby was born who looked similar to me when I came out (all blotchy) and the midwives said that it was probably mottled skin.

I haven't really had any health issues other than the varicose veins, but do any of you think it's likely I have mottled skin, not port-wine stain birthmarks? Also, do you think I should go to a dermatologist to get checked for underlying symptoms? I've never had any real health issues, hence why it hasn't really been an issue. (I don't really care about them because I've had them my whole life and for years I thought it was just the way skin was; I thought I even had a magic foot!)


Okay. Most of you will dismiss me as a clueless little kid, but here I go. I'm currently 12 and I've had mottling of the skin ever since I was 9. Whenever it comes, my legs and arms stiffen up and I can't walk.

In 2011 I was diagnosed with systemic scleroderma but all of my rheumatologists dismissed it as a false diagnosis. I've been going through this for almost seven years and I'm sick and tired of it. I recently found a doctor that did a test on me and found a whole bunch of stuff in me, but I believe that he only did the test for the common, big-name diseases. I have an elevated ANA all the time, which should be a big indicator of something wrong.

I do also frequently have big white splotches on my toes. Does anybody maybe suggest something? All of my symptoms match up with the systemic scleroderma. Please help.


I don't want to sound morbid, but mottled skin is also a part of the dying process. I'm not saying that if you have mottled skin that you are dying! My sister recently died of lung cancer, and her hands and arms became mottled. It's because there wasn't any oxygen getting to them. If you have a loved one who is dying, this is a sign of imminent death. Just saying...


Mottled skin can also be caused if you have Fibromyalgia in some cases.


I have had purple mottled skin on my arms for as long as i can remember. It is accompanied by bright red blotches also. I have high blood pressure that I take medications for. My family doctor shrugged it off as nothing. I don't have insurance and it is discouraging to read all these comments that dermatologists as well don't know what it is. It's obviously not fatal, at least yet. I'm 53 and wish somebody could diagnose me without it costing all the money I have.


While I sleep, my hand and arm fall asleep. I wake up in pain and shake my hand and arm awake. I'm pretty sure I'm causing this by lying on my arm and cutting off circulation. But after doing this by accident, for maybe a year on and off, more on lately I have discoloration on my right hand. Could this be mottled skin? I have yet to go to a doctor.

Will the blood vessels eventually release and will my hand go back to the way it looked before? Anyone dealt with something similar? Also, is it dangerous?


My daughter, age 6, has mottled skin. It looks like she's cold, but she is not. Sometimes complains in the day/night of leg pain, her foot or hand fall asleep and become painful and tingling. She bruises easily and they take a while to go away. She sleeps with fan on and says it helps her to breathe. She has no known respiratory problems. She was healthy at birth and on time at delivery.

We have seen a hematologist and she has not had this all her life! The doctor said she was not anemic, and her clotting time was only off by a second or so. He dismissed her and diagnose her with Raynaunds! This is not a correct diagnosis! She is always hungry and wants snacks, too. I don't give many sugary snacks.

She's active, jumping/running/playing, but gets really red and hot fast! Does anyone have a clue? I really need some feedback. I'm at a dead end. Thanks!


I have complex regional pain syndrome and get mottled skin all the time, no matter the temperature, since I was diagnosed in 2003. It has spread from the affected limb now throughout my body as the CRPS has.


Raynaud's Disease is when you are exposed to cold your skin mottles, and you have pain in your fingers or toes from cold. Toes or fingers may turn white or purple They turn purple, white, then a bright red when heat is restored to body parts. I have this, and have found the best thing is to move the body around, do exercises to warm the body or an easier solution: take a nice warm, shower or bath. It gets the blood flowing again. Please look it up if you think you may have this.


I've had mottled skin my whole life and coming from Scotland this is an extremely common condition of having a chilly climate and lots of pale skinned people.

We had a newly qualified doctor in the 1990s from New Delhi and when he started seeing all these patients with mottled skin he thought it was an iron deficiency epidemic. We joked that whatever you went to see him for, the prescription was iron pills.

My mottled skin goes away when I'm in bed or in a warm country on holiday, which is fine for me. The rest of the time I just wear tights so no one sees.


I have mottled skin and high blood pressure. It's fine when I am out in the sun, but terrible when I get cold. I also suffer from white and severely painful fingers and toes in the winter.


My legs showed mottled skin in 2004 after a rigorous walk in the cold winter air of Connecticut. A blood test in 2010 showed I was terribly anemic. Result: CAD, cold agglutinin disease. Treatment: Rituxan

Sjogren's test relates to CAD. But the underlying condition for CAD to occur in you must be detected. Only 5 percent of lucky ones have no underlying reason for CAD to occur.

Take mottling seriously if it happens due to exposure to cold, and see your doctor right away.


If you notice that mottling happens when exposed to the cold, please have a Coombs test done of your blood immediately for cold agglutinin disease or "CAD". This rare disease destroys red blood cells, due to exposure to cold, and you will become dangerously anemic. You must act now. Once blood hemoglobin levels drop to 7, you are in danger. It affects your heart, and all other organs. if HGB drops to 4, you are in danger of your life.

If you notice blue cheeks, ears, fingers and toes,even after you play a game of tennis on a balmy evening, you have CAD. Please proceed now. Even if it is a rare disease (one person in 1 million), it happened to me, and it could be your case too.


I know a person with brain cancer. He has mottled skin tones, purple like in the stomach. What could it be?


I've had mottled skin all of my life and I've never had a problem.


@anon117841: I read your post and I'm having the same problem. I too have been to the dermatologist and rheumatologist. My blood work has come back with always a slightly high wbc count and they also did a blood test for sjogrens and lupus, which came back positive but they're still not satisfied that these are still the root problem.

My regular doctor now wants to do an MRI and check my pituitary gland. I'm in hopes that they find what is wrong with me. I have been going through this for almost five months.

I can't do anything without constant pain and I also look like a freak my skin is so bad..Everything has changed so much, I have lost all muscle mass and my skin just looks horrible.

I'm 48 and just don't understand whats happening to me. I already have heart problems. I wish you the best. Just keep telling your regular doctor you need that MRI. And if he or she doesn't do it find you another one who will.

Good luck to you and God bless you. I hope we both and everyone else with the same health issues can get the help we deserve and need to have some quality of life again.


I have mottled skin. It's kind of strange, if you ask me.


I have had mottled skin all of my life. I inherited it from my father's side of the family. He had it all of his life, and my daughter also has it. My family doctor told me when I was young, it was my body's way of trying to keep warm when I get chilly. We have seen no health issues. I am 48.


Look up sepsis. It is very dangerous. The body has an infection. It can put toxins in the bloodstream and cause the immune system to attack your organs.


I was born with mottled skin and have had it all my life! It appears when I get cold and you can't see it at all when I'm warm! I've never had any serious health problems that could be attributed to this!


I think anon may need to be checked for multiple sclerosis.


How about your blood pressure? If it's high consider Sneddon's Syndrome. Characteristics include headaches, high blood pressure and mottling of the skin in the absence of an underlying disease/condition.


sounds like rynad syndrome.


I have mottling skin and no doctors seem to know why. I get cluster headaches and my skin only gets like that when I'm standing and worsen when I'm cold.

Much pain comes along where I can't even sit or stand for too long due to pain. I have seen a dermatologist, a rheumatologist, an internal medicine doctor and they all keep telling me nothing is wrong because my blood tests are all good.

Every day I do research on the Internet and I came across the pituitary gland, which could be a reason why. I asked my doc to check my hormones and she never wants to. Is there anybody out there who can help me?


It is interesting how even harmless-seeming changes in the skin or other appearances can be a sign of a dangerous condition, but that seems to be common. After all, even a tan can be as dangerous as sunburn when talking about skin cancer, so it makes sense that the skin is such an indicator of overall health.


I had no idea mottled skin could be a sign of something more serious, though i don't know if I've ever known anyone who had it.

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