Diabetes, also called diabetes mellitus, can cause a variety of problems with the feet, including purple toes.
Purple toes are a condition that is caused by a lack of blood flow to them and can lead to other complications if left untreated.
In this article, we will discuss what diabetes is, how it causes purple toes or feet, and the treatment options available for this condition.
We will also explore other conditions that can cause discoloration in the toes or feet, and the treatment options available for them.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic condition where there is too much sugar, also called glucose, in your blood which can happen because your body does not make enough insulin or because your cells do not respond properly to it.
Insulin is a hormone that helps your cells take in glucose to convert it into energy.
If you have type 1 diabetes, your pancreas has stopped making insulin and you will have to supplement insulin with a pump or injections for the rest of your life.
Type 2 diabetes is when your pancreas still makes insulin but your cells are insulin resistant which allows your blood sugar to rise.
High blood sugar levels can lead to serious health problems like heart attacks, kidney disease, stroke, and blindness.
Does diabetes cause purple toes or feet?
Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to toe or foot problems because of diabetic neuropathy or poor circulation.
Diabetic neuropathy is a type of nerve damage that can cause pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness in your feet and toes.
Poor circulation happens when diabetes narrows your peripheral blood vessels which reduce the amount of blood flow to your feet and toes.
The lack of blood flow can cause foot ulcers or sores that are slow healing and also cause the skin color on your feet to turn purple, blue, or gray and you may also develop discolored patches of skin that may be red or purple too.
Diabetic dermopathy can cause skin discoloration too although these spots normally occur on your shins, are brownish in color like age spots, and are harmless.
What are the treatment options for purple toes or feet caused by diabetes?
If you have diabetes and your feet or toes turn purple, it is important to seek medical attention right away as it can be a sign of serious underlying health problems.
Your doctor will likely recommend that you see a foot specialist or podiatrist (foot doctor) who can help to treat any foot ulcers or sores that you may have and they will also be able to advise you on how to take care of your feet if you have diabetes.
The most common way to treat purple toes or feet caused by diabetes is to manage your blood sugar levels.
You can do this by taking your prescription medicines as prescribed by your doctor, getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, and quitting smoking.
It is also imperative that you do a physical examination of your feet daily for any sores, blisters, cuts, or other injuries so they can be treated and do not develop into ulcers.
What other conditions can cause discoloration in toes or feet?
There are other health conditions that can cause your toes or feet to turn purple as well and these include the following:
When you have Raynaud’s disease, also called Raynaud’s phenomenon, your blood vessels narrow and the flow of blood to your extremities is reduced.
Raynaud’s can be caused by cold temperatures, anxiety, or stress and can cause your toes or fingers to turn white, blue, red, or purple.
The treatment options for Raynaud’s disease involve keeping your hands and feet warm in cold weather and reducing stress or anxiety although medications can be prescribed in severe cases.
Peripheral artery disease (PAD)
Peripheral artery disease is a type of vascular disease where your arteries narrow which reduces the blood flow to your limbs.
PAD most commonly affects the legs and can cause the common symptoms of cramping, pain, or fatigue in your calf, thigh, or hip when you walk.
The skin on your feet or toes may also turn a bluish or purple color due to the lack of circulation.
Treatment options for PAD include quitting smoking, exercising, and eating a healthy diet although medications or surgery may be required in severe cases.
An injury to your foot or toe can cause the area to turn purple due to bruising which causes blood vessel damage.
Treatment options for a foot injury include resting, icing the area, and elevating your foot although you may also need to wear special shoes or casts depending on the severity of your injury.
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that can cause inflammation and pain in any part of your body and can also cause purple toes or feet due to Raynaud’s disease which we described above.
Vasculitis, or inflamed blood vessels, can also be a symptom of lupus which causes a rash of tiny red or purple circular dots.
The treatment options for lupus vary depending on the severity and you will need to talk to your doctor about the best options for you.
Ischemic foot is a condition caused by poor blood flow to your feet which can lead to tissue death and can be caused by diabetes, PAD, or other vascular diseases and can cause your toes or feet to turn purple or blue.
Your arteries may narrow due to injury, plaque buildup, or a blood clot which can all prevent proper blood flow.
The treatment options for ischemic foot include quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and taking medications.
You will need to also manage your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood glucose levels to treat or prevent ischemic foot from happening.
Frostbite is an injury that occurs when your skin and tissue freeze due to exposure to cold temperatures.
It most commonly affects your extremities such as your toes, fingers, or ears, and can cause the area to turn white, red, blue, or purple, and can turn your skin hard.
The treatment options for frostbite include warming the affected area slowly and carefully although amputation may be necessary in certain cases.
You can also prevent frostbite by protecting all parts of your body and dressing warmly in cold temperatures.
Acrocyanosis is a condition that causes your hands or feet to turn blue or purple due to poor blood circulation.
It can be caused by exposure to cold temperatures, smoking, or certain medications but it is harmless and usually goes away on its own.
In short, diabetes can cause purple toes or feet due to poor blood circulation but there are several other medical conditions that can also cause this symptom.
If you are experiencing purple toes or purple feet, it is important to seek medical attention right away as it could be a sign of a serious underlying condition.
Your doctor will likely recommend that you see a specialist such as a vascular surgeon or an endocrinologist to help diagnose and treat your condition.
If you have any more questions about purple toes or purple feet, please talk to your doctor, podiatrist, or health care provider about proper foot care and the best ways to keep your feet healthy.
References and sources:
Fact Checked and Editorial Process
Diabetic.org is devoted to producing expert and accurate articles and information for our readers by hiring experts, journalists, medical professionals, and our growing Diabetic.org community. We encourage you to read more about our content, editing, and fact checking methods here. This was fact checked by Jacqueline Hensler and medically reviewed by Dr. Angel Rivera.
Erik Rivera is a co-founder of Diabetic.org and has been an e-commerce Entrepreneur for over 10 years since he retired from Special Forces after graduating from the Naval Academy. He also is the founder of Health Ramp Services, a company that brings new medical device companies to market. He has founded several digital businesses and has had a number of successful exits in e-commerce as well as software. His OnePet business is a leader in the online Pet Care space by creating and delivering high quality products and services for pet owners.