What Is Mottled Skin And Is It Dangerous For You?

Written by Reevan Vishwas Rego , Certified Skin Care Coach

A lot of us pride ourselves in maintaining excellent skin health, being well-groomed, and maintaining a good skincare routine. But what we may not like are the occasional red or purple patches and spots on the skin. Such skin is called mottled skin (medically known as livedo reticularis). This condition is observed mostly in young and middle-aged women. There are many reasons skin mottling happens. While it may be benign in some cases, it may also signify a more serious underlying issue. Read through to understand more about mottled skin and how you can deal with it effectively.

What Is Mottling Of Skin?

Mottling of skin is a condition characterized by red and purple patches that appear on your skin. You may begin to notice these patches on your arms, legs, knees, and the back. A variety of conditions can lead to mottling of the skin – the most common of them being exposure to extreme temperature changes. In some cases, this leads to a disruption in blood flow due to the variations in temperature.

Young women commonly experience mottled skin on their legs due to exposure to extreme cold weather. Mottled skin may also be caused by the deposition of calcium within the blood vessel walls or endothelial dysfunction (where the blood vessels on the heart’s surface constrict) (1).

Mottled skin can either be caused due to isolated factors or as a side effect of some medication. Medications prescribed for Parkinson’s disease are known to commonly cause this skin condition (2).

Let us understand the common signs of mottled skin and how you can identify it.

What Are The Symptoms Of Mottled Skin?

The most common symptom of mottled skin is the appearance of purple and red patches on the skin. A closer inspection may reveal a network of lacy-looking patches appearing on your skin. Other signs include pain in the lymph nodes or development of ulcers related to mottled skin. However, these symptoms are only based on anecdotal evidence.

We will look into the causes of mottled skin in the next section.

What Are The Causes For Mottling Of Skin?

Mottled skin can be caused due to many factors. However, poor blood circulation and blood vessel spasms are the leading causes (1). Poor blood circulation can be a result of high cholesterol and high blood pressure levels. Smoking also may rupture blood vessels and restrict the normal flow (3).

Other causes of mottled skin include:

  • Lupus

Lupus (or systemic lupus erythematosus (LSE)) is an autoimmune disease that affects multiple body organs. You may begin to notice lesions on your skin, which eventually may turn into red and purple patches (4).

  • Exposure To Extreme Cold

Exposure to extremely cold or freezing temperatures causes your body to restrict blood flow to your skin by constricting the blood vessels. This thermoregulatory function happens to preserve your core temperature – resulting in the formation of purple patches on the skin. In this case, the mottled skin can be reversed by exposing yourself to warmer temperatures (5).

  • Bier Spots

Another cause of skin mottling is Bier spots. This is common among individuals aged 20 to 40 years and is more significant in women. Here, you notice white marble-like patterns instead of purple and red patches. Skin mottling due to Bier spots is harmless and requires no treatment. However, Bier spots may signify other underlying conditions that may warrant relevant treatment (6).

  • Shock And Trauma To The Body

Shock and trauma to the body in the form of electric burns, injuries, or blunt force can damage your blood vessels. Such trauma can disrupt blood flow to various parts of your body, including your skin. This may eventually lead to mottling of the skin (3).

  • Pancreatitis

People with acute pancreatitis may find their abdominal skin mottling. In a study, a 40-year-old woman experiencing acute pancreatitis developed a blue rash on her abdominal region. Further examination suggested it to be mottled skin. Her mottled abdominal skin was found to be consistent with her previous pancreatitis attacks (7).

  • Sepsis

Sepsis is your body’s extreme response to an infection during a life-threatening emergency. It occurs when a pre-existing infection causes a chain reaction within your body. Untimely treatment may even result in death. Sepsis may also cause skin mottling (8).

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is characterized by inflammation of the knee and wrist joints. It also may cause tissue damage and chronic pain. An uncommon manifestation of rheumatoid arthritis is rheumatoid vasculitis. The condition causes inflammation, ulcers, and gangrenous formations on the skin. It is observed only in 1% of rheumatoid arthritis patients. Rheumatoid vasculitis also affects blood vessels and may cause mottled skin (9).

These are the causes of mottled skin. But how to diagnose it and when should you consult a doctor?

How To Diagnose Skin Mottling And When To See A Doctor?

Red and purple patches on your skin can almost always denote mottled skin. Mottled skin usually does not require a doctor’s visit as it tends to subside in a day or two. However, symptoms that prolong or get you seriously worried warrant a doctor’s inspection.
If you are suffering from mottled skin and are seeking treatment for it, let us understand how you can go about it.

Treatment Options To Cure Mottling Of Skin

With regards to the treatment of mottled skin, there is no specific method or medication. It solely depends on a case-to-case basis. A person suffering from Parkinson’s disease is likely to have mottled skin as a side effect from the medication they are taking as part of their treatment. Similarly, some medications that are critical to the treatment of certain conditions may cause the mottling of the skin, which doesn’t mean that you stop taking that medication.

In conclusion, mottling of skin is a condition where red and purple lacey patches appear on your skin. This may be caused by something as benign as being exposed to severely cold temperatures or something as serious as lupus and Parkinson’s disease. In most cases, mottled skin is harmless, however, if the condition does not subside visit your dermatologist to ascertain its underlying cause. There is no blanket treatment for mottled skin; each case has to be treated differently based on the diagnosis that determines the underlying cause of mottled skin. Having read through this article, do you really think beauty lies skin deep?

Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions

What does mottling of the skin indicate?

It could indicate that some of your blood vessels have ruptured or are blocked (1).

What does mottling skin look like?

The area affected by the mottling of skin is covered in red or purple patches that look like laces.

What is mottling and why does it happen?

Mottling is the appearance of purple or red lacey patches on your skin. There are many reasons for the mottling of the skin. It can be something as simple as being exposed to freezing or near-freezing temperatures or something as serious as lupus, Parkinson’s disease, or Rheumatoid arthritis.

Can mottled skin be prevented?

In certain cases, yes, it can be prevented by avoiding extreme cold temperatures and staying warm. Proactively you can also avoid smoking as it tends to block arteries and blood vessels. Blocked blood vessels are one of the main causes of mottling of the skin (1).

References:

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  1. Livedo Reticularis: A Review of the Literature
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/pmc/articles/PMC4594389/
  2. Skin Disorders in Parkinson’s Disease: Potential Biomarkers and Risk Factors
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/pmc/articles/PMC5352163/
  3. Platelets and Cardiovascular Disease
    https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/01.CIR.0000086897.15588.4B
  4. Cutaneous Manifestations of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/pmc/articles/PMC3410306/
  5. Raynaud Disease
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499833/
  6. Bier spots: An Uncommon Cause of Mottled Skin
    https://www.idoj.in/article.asp?issn=2229-5178;year=2015;volume=6;issue=2;spage=128;epage=129;aulast=Mahajan
  7. Livedo Reticularis: A Rare Skin Manifestation of Pancreatitis
    https://pancreas.imedpub.com/livedo-reticularis-a-rare-skin-manifestation-of-pancreatitis.php?aid=19842
  8. Alteration of Skin Perfusion in Mottling Area During Septic Shock
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/pmc/articles/PMC3848827/
  9. Arthropathy in Dermatology: A Comprehensive Review
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/pmc/articles/PMC5372453/
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