What Causes a Purple Finger?

A finger typically turns purple when blood is not circulating well to the hand.

Blood is bright red when it is moving the proper amount of oxygen through the body. Without an adequate amount of oxygen, blood turns dark and color changes—including a change to a purple tone—follow.

There are a few reasons why this may happen, as well as additional reasons your finger could turn purple.

This article talks about some of the more common health conditions that can cause a purple finger. It also explains how they are treated and when it's a good idea to see your healthcare provider.

Potential Causes of a Purple Finger

Verywell / Jessica Olah

Vasospasm

A vasospasm is due to a persistent contraction of the blood vessels known as vasoconstriction. This causes the arteries to narrow, which reduces blood flow.

Vasospasm can occur in many parts of the body. When this happens in the arms or legs, the symptoms include:

  • Fingers or toes turning purple or blue, caused by an inadequate amount of oxygenated blood reaching the limbs
  • Sharp pain, often described as burning or stinging, in the affected area

Treatment

Vasospasm treatment for the fingers focuses on preventing any causes of vascular constriction. It includes:

  • Avoiding cold exposure
  • Avoiding pressure on the fingers
  • Avoiding emotional stress
  • Avoiding tobacco

Recap

Intense constriction of blood vessels can cause purple finger. Smoking is one common cause.

Raynaud's Syndrome

Raynaud's syndrome is also called Raynaud's phenomenon. It is a disorder that affects your blood vessels and causes them to overreact to cold weather. It affects more women than men.

When a person with Raynaud's syndrome has an attack, the body doesn't send enough blood to the hands and feet.

In severe cases, fingers can turn blue or purple because of the decreased blood flow and lack of oxygen.

When purple finger occurs, it's a sign you're not getting enough oxygenated blood to that or perhaps other areas of the body. If it persists, especially after warming the hands, or if it appears with other concerning symptoms, seek a medical evaluation.

Both stress and cold weather can lead to an attack. When this happens, the hands and feet can feel very cold or numb.

An episode can last only a few minutes to more than an hour. Symptoms range in severity, but they are most often mild.

There are two forms of this condition:

  • Primary Raynaud's syndrome occurs for an unknown reason. It is the more common form of this disorder. Symptoms usually begin when a person is between 15 and 25 years old.
  • Secondary Raynaud's syndrome is caused by an underlying health condition. Lupus and scleroderma, a rare autoimmune disease that affects the skin and organs, are the most common reasons. Secondary Raynaud's syndrome is more serious than the primary form. Symptoms usually begin after age 35.

Treatment

There is no cure for Raynaud's syndrome. Lifestyle changes and medications can reduce the severity and number of future attacks. They also may prevent finger or toe tissue loss.

Lifestyle Changes

There are steps you can take to avoid or limit these episodes:

  • Stay warm: It's especially important to keep your feet and hands warm and dry. In cold weather, wear socks, hats, and gloves or mittens. Layer with loose clothing. If you will be outside for a long time, keep hand warmers in your pockets. Use insulated glasses to protect your hands when drinking cold beverages. Put on gloves before handling frozen or refrigerated foods.
  • Avoid rapidly changing temperatures and damp climates: An extreme change in temperature can cause an attack. So can damp, rainy weather.
  • Limit or avoid air conditioning: Air conditioning can lead to an attack.
  • Don't smoke: The nicotine in cigarettes lowers skin temperature, which may lead to an attack.
  • Try acupuncture: Acupuncture can help improve blood flow.
  • Be careful with medications: Certain drugs cause the blood vessels to constrict. Beta-blockers, caffeine, narcotics, some migraine medications, and some chemotherapy drugs can cause an attack. Be sure to speak to your healthcare provider before starting any new medicines. Do not stop any drugs you already take without their guidance.
  • Control stress: Relaxation techniques can help because stress can cause an attack.
  • Exercise regularly: Exercise can improve your overall health. It also can increase your energy level, control weight, and improve sleep quality.

Medications and Surgery

Vasodilators, which widen the blood vessels, are the drugs most often used to treat the condition.

Minipress (prazosin) is a high blood pressure drug sometimes used to Raynaud's. Procardia (nifedipine) is a calcium channel blocker that also may be used.

The drugs limit how often and how severe these attacks are in about two-thirds of patients who have primary or secondary Raynaud's syndrome. 

Surgery may be needed in severe cases to restore blood flow to the affected areas.

Recap

Raynaud's syndrome causes blood vessels to tighten in cold weather, reducing blood flow. Often, the cause of Raynaud's is unknown. Lifestyle changes and medications may help prevent attacks.

Achenbach Syndrome

Achenbach syndrome can cause purple fingers. People with this rare condition have occasional pain and swelling in one or more of their fingers.

A hematoma (a bruise with the blood pooling outside of broken blood vessels) will follow. This causes the color change in the affected finger.

People often have warning signs a few minutes before the color change begins. These include pain, tingling, and itching.

The precise cause of Achenbach syndrome is unknown.

Treatment

Symptoms of Achenbach syndrome will, for the most part, go away on their own.

Bleeding beneath the skin usually stops, or it will after pressure is applied at the site.

The abnormal purple color usually goes away within a few days. There is no permanent damage.

Recap

Research has yet to identify the cause of Achenbach syndrome. It, too, can cause the purplish color change to fingers along with other symptoms. They usually will go away without treatment or lasting damage.

Chilblains

Chilblains is a rare, painful condition that causes red or purple bumps or patches on the fingers. They also may occur on the toes and, less commonly, the cheeks and ears.

These bumps may intensely burn, itch, and become swollen. They sometimes blister as well.

Chilblains is a weather-related disorder. It's caused by blood vessels that don't react normally after exposure to the cold and damp. Symptoms usually appear a few hours after exposure.

Chilblains mostly affects women, though the reasons for why are unknown.

Treatment

There is no cure for chilblains. Since cold temperatures trigger it, you can treat the condition by keeping the hands or other affected areas dry and warm. Additionally, keep up your core body temperature and avoid smoking.

These steps are usually enough to keep chilblains under control. If not, a healthcare provider can prescribe Procardia XL (nifedipine) or Pentoxil (pentoxifylline), drugs that work to improve blood flow.

Recap

A chilblains episode is related to cold weather. Its symptoms can be quite painful and affect other body parts beyond the fingers. Staying warm and making some lifestyle changes can usually manage this condition.

Buerger's Disease

Buerger's disease normally affects the small- and medium-sized nerves, arteries, and veins. It causes blood vessels to swell and narrow, which constricts blood flow. This puts you at risk for blood clots that affect the hands and feet.

One of the symptoms of Buerger's disease is decreased blood flow to fingers and toes in cold weather, which can lead to a purple or blue finger.

Other symptoms include:

  • Coldness, numbness, tingling, or burning
  • Pain in the arms, hands, and the legs and feet, even at rest
  • Painful muscle cramps, swelling (edema), and skin ulcers
  • Inflamed veins and symptoms of Raynaud's syndrome
  • Gangrene, or tissue death, which may lead to toe or finger amputation (severe cases)

Healthcare providers aren't sure what causes Buerger's disease. Smoking is a common thread among people who have it.

Treatment

There is no cure for Buerger's disease, but symptoms are often reduced or resolved when someone quits smoking. It is the most effective treatment to stem the effects of the disease.

People who continue to smoke have a 40% to 50% amputation rate.

Some other treatments that have been used with varying success include:

  • Drugs that improve blood flow and reduce blood clot risk
  • Pain medicines
  • Arm and leg compression
  • Spinal cord stimulation
  • Surgery to control pain and increase blood flow

Recap

Symptoms of Buerger's disease can include color changes to the finger, as well as pain and swelling in the hands, feet, and legs. Cold weather can make symptoms worse. It is common among smokers, who face a higher risk of serious complications if they continue to smoke.

Summary

Your finger can turn purple or blue for several reasons that don't involve any physical injury. A few of these causes, such as vasospasm, Raynaud's syndrome, or chilblains, have symptoms that are weather-related. It's important to avoid the cold, or dress carefully for it, if you have any of these conditions.

Other reasons may be related to an underlying health issue. In some cases, there can be serious consequences if the condition is not diagnosed and treated properly.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does it take for a burst blood vessel in your finger to heal?

    It usually takes about three days for a burst blood vessel in the finger to heal.

  • How is Achenbach syndrome diagnosed?

    There are no specific tests for Achenbach syndrome. The diagnosis is based on a physical exam and a person's symptoms. Doctors will rule out other possible causes during the diagnostic process.

10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. National Institutes of Health: National Institutes of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Raynaud's phenomenon.

  3. Mecoli, C. American College of Rheumatology. Scleroderma.

  4. Cleveland Clinic. Raynaud's phenomenon: Management and treatment.

  5. Godoy A, Tabares AH. Achenbach syndrome (paroxysmal finger hematoma). Sage Open. Aug. 1, 2019; 24 (4): 361-366. doi:org/10.1177/1358863X19849627.

  6. Harvard Health Publishing. By the way doctor: What can I do about chilblains?

  7. Shakshouk H, Lehman JS. Purple fingers and toesMayo Clin Proc. 2020;95(7):1313-1314. doi:10.1016/j.mayocp.2020.02.025.

  8. National Institutes of Health: Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center. Buerger disease.

  9. van Twist DJL, Hermans W, Mostard GJM. Paroxysmal finger hematomaCCJM. 2020;87(4):194-194. doi:10.3949/ccjm.87a.19122

  10. Ribeiro F, Aveiro M, Leal M, Valente T, Jesus G. An acute blue finger: a case of achenbach’s syndromeEuropean Journal of Case Reports in Internal Medicine. 2019;6(9):1. doi:10.12890/2019_001231

Additional Reading

By Cherie Berkley, MS
Cherie Berkley is an award-winning journalist and multimedia storyteller covering health features for Verywell.