5 Ways Your Skin is Telling You That Your Heart's in Trouble
These skin symptoms could be a subtle (or not-so-subtle) sign of heart disease.
As your largest organ—and the only one visible from the outside—your skin is a window into your overall health. And the same way stress can cause breakouts and aggravate conditions such as eczema, symptoms of other internal health issues can also show up on your skin. Seeing something suspicious on your skin could be one of the first indications that something isn't right with one of your other organs, including your heart.
"Warning signs can appear on your skin and nails, which is why your dermatologist may be the first doctor to notice that you have heart disease," the American Academy of Dermatology states. Various growths, discolorations, or swelling in certain areas could be linked to serious heart complications. Read on to discover which specific skin signs may be problematic and warrant a heart health check-up.
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Changes in skin color
Bluish coloring on your skin (the medical term for this is cyanosis) can happen when you're exposed to cold temperatures. However, if you notice this complexion change—specifically in your toes, fingers, or lips—while your body is warm, it may indicate a heart problem. According to the Mayo Clinic, "Heart failure occurs when the heart muscle doesn't pump blood as well as it should. Poor blood flow may cause the skin to appear blue (cyanotic)."
A web-like purple pattern under the skin that persists even in warmer temperatures could also be a red flag. This is known as livedo reticularis, and usually appears on the arms or legs.
The appearance of waxy yellow skin growths may be bad news for your heart. The painless growths, called xanthomas, may look like a rash or warts on first glance, but they are actually buildups of fat under the skin indicating a higher overall level of cholesterol in the blood.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, when cholesterol levels in the body are too high, cholesterol can build up on the walls of your arteries, causing something called atherosclerosis. "This condition causes arteries to become narrowed, and the narrowed blood vessels reduce blood flow to the heart," the clinic explains. "This can result in angina (chest pain) from not enough blood flow getting to the heart, or a heart attack in cases when a blood vessel is blocked completely and the heart muscle begins to die."
Contact your doctor if you notice the sudden appearance of yellow or orange bumps on your skin. They can pop up anywhere on the body but are most commonly found on joints, like your knees and elbows. And a specific type of xanthoma, called xanthelasmas, even develops on the eyelids.
Pitted skin on your feet and ankles
Do your shoes or socks feel a bit tighter recently? Swelling of the feet and ankles, called edema, can be another symptom of heart disease. As the heart weakens, it is unable to efficiently pump blood through the veins to areas such as the feet and back, causing a buildup. "This means that it gathers in the legs, and fluid is forced out of the blood vessels into the surrounding tissue," an article published by the National Library of Medicine states.
Be particularly cautious of what's known as 'pitted' edema, as it is more closely associated with heart problems compared to 'non-pitted edema, which is often linked to complications in the thyroid or lymphatic system. You can identify which is which by lightly pressing the affected area. If an indentation, or 'pit,' remains afterwards, then you are dealing with pitted edema.
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Itchy, inflamed legs
Stasis dermatitis, a form of eczema, is a skin inflammation in the lower legs caused by poor circulation and fluid buildup which results in red, itchy, dry, and even scaly skin. Like edema, it can be caused by improper heart function, as blood is unable to travel properly through the veins.
Jenny Murase, MD, an associate clinical professor of dermatology, stressed the importance of catching and treating the disease early in a statement to the National Eczema Association. "Recognizing stasis dermatitis early may help reveal a life-threatening condition and prevent the skin condition from progressing from swelling, redness and itching to open, oozing ulcerations that are vulnerable to infection," Murase said.
Janeway lesions and Osler's nodes both manifest on the skin as reddish-purple raised lumps or spots. However, Janeway lesions are typically non-tender and occur on the palms and soles of the feet, whereas Osler's nodes can be painful and are found on fingers and the bottom of toes.
Despite their differences, both can be manifestations of bacterial endocarditis, a potentially life-threatening infection in the lining and inner valves of the heart. Bacterial endocarditis can cause heart failure, heart attacks, and other complications if left untreated. People with previous complications such as heart valve disease, Rheumatic heart disease, or a heart transplant are more at risk of this type of dangerous infection.
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