What’s Causing My Mottled Skin?

Medically reviewed by Cynthia Cobb, DNP, APRN on October 31, 2017Written by Lana Bandoim on October 31, 2017

What is mottled skin?

Mottled skin, also called livedo reticularis, is skin that has patchy and irregular colors. The skin may have red and purple marks, streaks, or spots. It may also have a marbled appearance with different colors.

Read on to learn several causes of mottled skin and what you can do about it.

Symptoms of mottled skin

The main symptom of mottled skin is a blotchy appearance with red or purple spots. The irregular skin color can appear on any part of the body. You may see a lacy network of patches on the skin.

Accompanying symptoms that are concerning and require medical treatment include:

Mottled skin often resolves itself. If it doesn’t go away on its own, seek medical attention for a diagnosis.

Causes of mottled skin

Many conditions can cause mottled skin. Blood circulation problems and blood vessel spasms are two common causes. Causes also include:

Shock

Shock is a serious and life-threatening condition. Accidents, trauma, blood loss, infections, poisons, or burns can cause shock. Mottled skin accompanied by other symptoms can be a sign of shock and requires immediate medical help. The symptoms of shock include:

  • mottled, cold, or pale skin
  • breathing problems
  • larger-than-normal pupils
  • rapid pulse
  • rapid breathing
  • nausea and vomiting
  • weakness
  • dizziness
  • fainting

Shock is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention.

Cold environment

Exposure to cold environments can cause mottled skin. Cold temperatures can affect your blood circulation. Other symptoms may include feeling cold, shivering, or numbness.

Vascular diseases

Vascular diseases affect the blood vessels in the body and can cause mottled skin. Vascular conditions include:

Other symptoms will vary based on the specific vascular disease and may include breathing problems, pain, or fatigue.

Reactions to medications

Mottled skin can be a side effect of or reaction to some medications. Other symptoms will vary based on the type of medication and your allergies. Drugs that are known to cause mottled skin include:

Lupus

One of the symptoms of lupus is mottled skin. Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that is inflammatory in nature. Other symptoms of lupus include:

  • butterfly rash on the face
  • fatigue
  • pain, swelling, or stiffness
  • dry eyes
  • fever
  • sun sensitivity
  • toes and fingers that turn blue in the cold
  • problems breathing
  • headaches

Antiphospholipid syndrome

Antiphospholipid syndrome is an autoimmune disease that affects the blood vessels. One of the symptoms is mottled skin that usually appears on the knees or wrists. Other symptoms of antiphospholipid syndrome include:

  • seizures
  • headaches
  • dementia
  • blood clots
  • strokes

Pancreatitis

Mottled skin can be caused by pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas. Other symptoms of pancreatitis include:

End-of-life stage

When a person is close to dying, mottled skin may appear. Other end-of-life symptoms of include:

  • problems swallowing
  • refusing water and food
  • being unconscious or delirious
  • problems breathing
  • feeling extreme fatigue and weakness
  • decreased cardiac activity

Complications that can occur

Complications are possible if the cause of the mottled skin is a medical condition that isn’t addressed. Mottled skin that clears up on its own or is caused by the cold usually doesn’t have complications.

Mottled skin in newborn babies

Some newborn babies have mottled skin. Usually, this benign condition goes away on its own. Exposure to cold temperatures frequently causes it. Treatment includes keeping the baby warm and avoiding the cold. There is usually no need to have additional medical treatment.

Treatment options

There is no one specific treatment for all mottled skin cases. Treatment depends on the cause of this condition and other symptoms that appear along with the skin mottling.

Shock requires immediate medical attention. Once the person is in the hospital or emergency room, they will likely receive oxygen and intravenous fluids and undergo tests so doctors can determine the underlying cause.

Vascular diseases are often treated with lifestyle changes and medications that lower blood pressure or cholesterol. You may also be given drugs that help prevent your arteries from narrowing. If you have an aneurysm, you may need surgery in some cases. Skin mottling should resolve once your underlying condition is managed.

For skin mottling caused by a medication, talk to your doctor about your options. They may decide to reduce your dosage or change to a different medication.

If you have an autoimmune disease like lupus that’s causing your mottled skin, your doctor will prescribe medications to help control your immune response and reduce inflammation. If you’re feeling uncomfortable with how your skin looks, makeup may help minimize the appearance of mottling or skin rashes associated with lupus.

Mottled skin caused by cold environments can often be resolved with home remedies and cold-reducing measures. Layering warm clothing, using heated blankets, and rubbing the affected areas vigorously can all help reduce the blotchiness that comes with cold. If you deal with extreme temperatures, these tips may help you stay safe.

For mottled skin associated with the end-of-life stage, treatment will focus on keeping the person comfortable. Hospice care centers and staff can offer helpful support to you or your loved one during this stage.

Can it be prevented?

It may be possible to prevent mottled skin in some cases. Prevention may include:

  • avoiding cold environments or taking appropriate measures to stay warm
  • not smoking, since smoking can cause circulation problems
  • making lifestyle changes to reduce risk of certain vascular problems

Outlook

Depending on the cause of the mottled skin, you may be able to make a complete recovery. If your mottled skin is caused by a medical problem, getting treatment for it may also help.

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