Brown Spots On Ankles: Should You Be Worried?
Published September 17, 2021
“I noticed brown freckle-like spots are starting to appear in my ankles and lower legs. Should I be worried?”
As we grow older, skin discoloration can be inevitable. Aging causes our skin to lose moisture and be more susceptible to damage. In fact, sunspots and skin pigmentations are common concerns among adults.
Skin discoloration and dark spots on the feet and ankles, in particular, become more common as you advance in age. But in certain cases, it can be a symptom of vein disease.
Before you panic, know that some skin discoloration disorders go away on their own and won’t require medication. But if it’s caused by vein disease, you may need surgery. Thus, it’s important to know what caused the change in pigmentation to implement proper treatment.
Common Causes of Ankle Discoloration
Most skin discolorations in the lower leg are caused by hemosiderin staining. It’s usually a result of a condition called chronic venous insufficiency. This happens when red blood cells are broken down and the hemoglobin releases iron. The excess iron is then stored as hemosiderin in the tissues under your skin. This causes visible dark brown spots that sometimes extend from your lower legs down to your ankles.
Some of the most common causes of hemosiderin staining include:
- sitting or standing for long periods of time
- sedentary lifestyle
- previous injury or surgery
- sun damage
Aside from the above risk factors, the brown spots in your feet and ankles may also be caused by the following medical conditions:
- cardiovascular disease
- venous ulcers
- varicose veins
- venous hypertension
- leg edema
Symptoms to Watch Out For
Sometimes, it can be hard to distinguish hemosiderin staining from discolorations caused by skin diseases. But if you’re experiencing the following symptoms, you may be showing signs of venous stasis dermatitis – an advanced form of vein disease:
- red or brown spots on ankles and lower leg
- skin rashes and irritations
- shiny and scaly skin surface
- skin dryness
- ankle and leg swelling
- increased pain after standing or sitting for long periods of time
- restless leg syndrome
If left untreated, the swelling and discoloration can go up to your calf. It can also lead to venous leg ulcers that cause open bleeding sores.
How to Get Rid of Hemosiderin Staining
As I’ve mentioned, skin discolorations are normal signs of aging and usually go away on their own. But if it persists, there might be an underlying cause behind it. If you want to get rid of skin discolorations in your feet and ankles, you need to treat the underlying conditions causing it.
Some of the most common treatments for feet and ankle discoloration include:
For minor skin discolorations, skin-lightening topical creams are often prescribed. This includes creams containing hydroquinone, tretinoin, or kojic acid. But they usually just work if the hemosiderin staining is caused by aging, sun exposure, or skin hyperpigmentation. They may fade the dark spots but they will never completely go away. Also, some of these creams contain ingredients that might be harmful to your health. So before rushing to your drugstore, make sure to talk to your doctor first.
If the concern is purely aesthetic, Intense Pulse Light (IPL) treatments are sometimes recommended for skin discolorations. As the name suggests, this treatment uses light energy to get rid of dark spots. It emits laser light to heat up the dark pigments and take them out of the body. It usually takes a few IPL sessions before you can see any visible results.
Treatment for Venous Stasis Dermatitis
The blood that circulates in your veins is your body’s way of bringing oxygen and nutrients to your cells. Venous stasis dermatitis happens when the veins in your lower legs are damaged thus blocking your blood flow. As the blood builds up, it creates pressure in your leg veins until some of the blood leaks out into your skin.
This condition is more common in people 50 years old or older. If you are standing or sitting for long periods of time and don’t get much exercise, you run a much higher risk of getting this disease. Blood clots, traumatic injury, and surgery may also cause damage to your leg veins resulting in stasis dermatitis.
Treatments for venous stasis dermatitis depend on the severity of the damage in your veins. This is why a diagnostic ultrasound is often recommended before a treatment can be started.
A standard non-invasive treatment for venous ulcers is compression therapy. It’s essential in effectively managing venous insufficiency, blood clots, spider vein, and vein obstructions. The treatment involves wearing socks or stockings specifically designed to promote proper blood circulation in your legs.
Radiofrequency Ablation (Endovenous Ablation)
This minimally invasive treatment uses radiofrequency to get rid of damaged veins. The surgery is performed by a vascular surgeon and usually takes just a couple of hours. It also has a short recovery time.
Aside from vein treatments and surgery, treating chronic venous insufficiency also require several lifestyle changes such as:
- getting regular exercise
- elevating your legs when sitting or lying down
- losing some weight (if you’re overweight)
- avoiding long periods of standing or sitting
- wearing compression stockings
If you can’t avoid sitting or standing for long periods of time, make sure to constantly change position or move your legs about.
Should You Be Worried?
In general, there is nothing to worry about dark and brown spots in your feet and ankles. But if it’s causing you discomfort, especially when it starts producing oozing sores, it’s best to visit your doctor immediately.
If your condition is a result of venous stasis dermatitis, the more you have to consult a vein specialist. Otherwise, it can lead to severe complications like chronic leg ulcers and infection of the bone or osteomyelitis.
About The Author
Judy Ponio is a firm believer in the power of knowledge when it comes to whole body donation and she wants to share her experience with the world. She also loves to write about food and art.