Did you know that your dermatologist may be the first person to detect early signs of cardiovascular or heart disease? Cardiovascular disease is an umbrella term that describes all medical conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels. Heart disease is another broad term that describes medical conditions affecting the proper functioning of the heart. All heart diseases are cardiovascular diseases, but not all cardiovascular diseases (like high blood pressure and clogged arteries) are heart disease.
Common heart conditions include coronary artery disease (CAD), arrhythmias, heart failure, congenital heart defects and conditions that affect heart muscles, valves or rhythms. Additionally, conditions like atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), often leads to heart attacks, strokes and poor circulation.
Since heart conditions develop inside your body, where does your dermatologist come into play? Many heart conditions have signs that appear on your skin and nails. When your dermatologist sees unusual signs and symptoms, he or she can recommend you see your PCP and get tested for heart conditions. Let’s explore some of the most common signs of heart disease on your skin.
1. Lower Leg and Feet Swelling
Heart disease can cause excess fluid build-up in the legs and feet, which causes them to swell. Swelling due to fluid build-up is called edema. Rapid lower extremity swelling with no visible or known injury could be a sign of a serious conditions like a blood clot or abnormal heart function and should be treated immediately by a doctor.
2. Gray, Blue or Purple Skin
Gray, blue or purple skin is a sign of blood vessel blockage. Any of the blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body – arteries, capillaries and veins – can become blocked and prevent adequate oxygen from reaching the blood. The lack of oxygen results in gray, purple or blue-colored skin, usually in the fingers or toes. Circulatory issues like blockages may be a sign of heart disease. Without treatment, they can cause permanent tissue damage or death.
3. A Gray, Blue or Purple Lacy Skin Pattern
Gray, blue or purple skin that appears in a web or lace-like pattern on the skin may be a sign of blocked arteries caused by high cholesterol. When cholesterol levels are too high, fatty deposits begin to build up in the arteries and prevent proper blood flow. While this doesn’t necessarily indicate heart disease, high cholesterol does increase the risk of developing heart disease or a heart attack.
4. Waxy Skin Growths
Waxy skin growths are another sign of cholesterol issues. Waxy, yellow-orange bumps that appear on the hands, feet, eyes, backs of legs or backside may be fatty cholesterol deposits under the skin. They indicate an unhealthy cholesterol level that needs treatment to prevent the development of heart disease or a heart attack. The appearance of multiple clusters of rash-like waxy growths indicates an extremely high cholesterol level that requires medical attention.
5. Red or Purple Fingernail Streaks
Red or purple dots of blood under the fingernails are usually caused by a fingernail injury or abrasion. But if they appear without a known injury, they may be signs of heart disease or a heart infection called infective endocarditis. When fingernail streaks are a symptom of a heart condition, they’re usually accompanied by other symptoms like a fever, weak heartbeat or irregular heartbeat.
6. Swollen Fingers
Swollen fingers with downward-turned nails (called clubbing) are another sign of heart disease or a heart infection. If you have clubbing, see your doctor to be tested for other signs of heart disease.
7. Brownish-Red Discolored Lesions or Painful Nodules
Discolored lesions (Janeway lesions) and painful nodules (Osler nodes) that appear on the hands and feet are rare but well-documented signs of a heart infection called infective endocarditis. Osler nodes are painful, tender red-purple bumps that develop most commonly on the fingers and toes. They can last for hours to days. Janeway lesions are non-painful, red-brown lesions that develop most commonly on the palms and soles. They can last for days to weeks. Treating the underlying heart infection resolves both lesions and nodes.
Schedule Your Appointment With FLDSCC Today
Receiving an annual skin exam is good for your skin health – and maybe your heart health too! Call one of our multiple locations today to schedule your appointment with the experts at Florida Dermatology and Skin Cancer Centers.