Acrocyanosis is a vasospastic disorder affecting the arteries supplying blood to the skin of the hands and feet. Vasospasm refers to the arteries going into spasm and blocking the flow of blood. These small arteries carry oxygen and nutrients through the blood to the skin of the hands and feet. When the blood cannot flow through, the skin will lack the necessary oxygen required, and turn a dark blue to purple color. This characteristic color is called cyanosis, hence the name acrocyanosis. It is not a common condition. It is seen more frequently in woman than in men.
Unlike the vasospasm seen in Raynaud’s disease which may last several minutes to several hours, the vasospasm in acrocyanosis is more persistent. In addition, the vasospasm in Raynaud’s disease affects the small arteries supplying blood to the fingers and toes. In acrocyanosis the vasospasm affects the arteries supplying blood flow to the skin of the hands and/or feet. Therefore the skin damage and ulcerations seen in Raynaud’s disease are not present in acrocyanosis. Lastly, Raynaud’s disease goes through a typical triphasic or biphasic color change. In contrast, acrocyanosis maintains its characteristic blue skin coloration.
Typical symptoms and signs of acrocyanosis of the hands or feet, are a persistently cold temperature and blue discoloration. They often feel sweaty or moist, and swelling may be present. The blue cyanosis usually appears worse upon exposure to cold, and improves upon warming. Rarely is there any pain associated. Normal arterial pulses are always present in the hands and feet since there is no blockage of the larger arteries of the arms or legs.
Generally the treatment is a common sense approach to preventing cold exposure and keeping the feet dry. This may involve the use of insulated boots, thin polypropylene liner socks to wick the moisture away from the skin, and an insulated sock to maintain normal skin temperature. Generally no other treatment is necessary. Vasodilators have been tried with limited success. In extreme cases a surgical procedure called a sympathectomy has been performed to relax the persistent vasospasm. This surgery is rarely necessary, and seldom recommended.