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Is Brown Skin Discoloration on Your Lower Legs a Cause for Concern?

Is Brown Skin Discoloration on Your Lower Legs a Cause for Concern?

May 25, 2024 | Blog

Skin discoloration occurs when there is a change in the natural color of your skin, and can be due to various factors such as increased melanin production, inflammation, or vascular issues. Discoloration can manifest as dark patches, spots, or a general change in skin tone.

Brown discoloration on the lower legs is a symptom that should not be ignored. It can indicate a range of underlying conditions, from chronic venous insufficiency and diabetes to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and stasis dermatitis. Identifying the cause of the discoloration is essential for proper treatment and management. Early detection and intervention can prevent further complications and improve overall quality of life.

In this blog post, we will talk about common conditions that cause brown skin discoloration on the lower legs, how to identify the underlying cause, and treatment options for these conditions.

If you notice brown skin discoloration on your lower legs, it is important to seek professional medical advice and get accurate diagnosis. CACVI is an advanced cardiac and vascular center that offers comprehensive diagnostic procedures to help identify the cause of your skin discoloration. Take advantage of our free consultation services to discuss your symptoms with a specialist today. 

For the purpose of this blog, we will be focusing on brown skin discoloration on the lower legs.

Most Common Causes of Brown Skin Discoloration on Lower Legs

Most Common Causes of Brown Skin Discoloration on Lower Legs

Brown skin discoloration on the lower legs can be a sign of various underlying medical conditions. It can indicate venous insufficiency or diabetes, DVT, varicose veins, etc.

To diagnose the cause of brown skin discoloration on your lower legs, it is important to consult a healthcare professional, preferably a vascular specialist. They may conduct a thorough examination, review your medical history, and perform diagnostic procedures such as Doppler ultrasound, venography, or blood tests to determine the underlying condition.

What is Hemosiderin Staining?

What is Hemosiderin Staining?

Hemosiderin staining is a form of skin discoloration characterized by brown patches that typically appear on the lower legs. This condition occurs when red blood cells break down and release iron, which is then deposited in the skin, leading to skin pigmentation changes. The staining often manifests as brown or reddish discoloration and can be a cosmetic concern as well as an indicator of an underlying medical condition.

What causes Hemosiderin Staining?

Hemosiderin staining is primarily caused by conditions that lead to chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) and poor blood circulation in the lower legs. Risk factors like long periods of standing or sitting, high blood pressure, and obesity can worsen poor circulation and contribute to hemosiderin staining. 

Common causes of hemosiderin staining include varicose veins, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), venous stasis dermatitis, etc. Leg swelling and leg edema can also lead to increased pressure in the veins and hemosiderin staining. 

Treatments for Hemosiderin Staining

Treatments for Hemosiderin Staining

There are several treatments for hemosiderin staining. One of which is the use of compression stockings. Wearing compression stockings helps improve blood flow and reduce blood pooling in the veins, which can minimize staining. You should wear them regularly, especially during long periods of standing or sitting. 

Topical creams that contain hydroquinone, retinoids, and corticosteroids, also serve as treatment options for hemosiderin staining. They help lighten the skin pigmentation caused by hemosiderin deposits. Another treatment option is laser treatment. Laser therapy targets and breaks down the hemosiderin deposits to reduce discoloration. It comes as a plus that it is a minimally invasive procedure. 

Other minimally invasive procedures include sclerotherapy or endovenous laser therapy (EVLT) to address underlying venous insufficiency. Additionally, making lifestyle changes like engaging in regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and elevating the legs can help alleviate symptoms and prevent further discoloration.

Does Venous Insufficiency Cause Brown Discoloration?

Yes, venous insufficiency can cause brown discoloration. Venous insufficiency is a condition where the leg veins are unable to efficiently return blood to the heart. This leads to blood pooling and increased pressure in the leg veins. Common symptoms of venous insufficiency include leg swelling, leg ulcers, varicose veins, and itchy patches. You could also experience skin changes like brown or reddish discoloration, scaly plaques, and thickening of the skin. If venous insufficiency is left untreated, it can lead to the worsening of symptoms, development of venous ulcers, permanent skin changes, and increased risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

Skin Conditions Resulting from Venous Insufficiency

Skin Conditions Resulting from Venous Insufficiency

Venous insufficiency is a vein disease that can lead to a variety of skin conditions that result from poor blood circulation and increased pressure in the veins of the lower legs. These conditions not only affect the appearance of the skin or skin leg discoloration but can also lead to significant discomfort and more serious health issues.

Venous Stasis Dermatitis

Venous stasis dermatitis is a skin condition that arises from chronic venous insufficiency. It occurs when there is poor blood flow and high pressure in the veins. This causes fluid to leak into the skin, resulting in inflammation and skin changes. Symptoms of this condition include red and scaly plaques, itching, and brown discoloration on the legs.

Hemosiderin Deposits

Hemosiderin deposits result from the breakdown of red blood cells in the lower legs. When blood pools due to venous insufficiency, red blood cells leak out of the veins and break down, releasing iron, which deposits in the skin as hemosiderin. Some of its symptoms are brown patches or reddish staining on the lower legs. 

Varicose Veins

Varicose veins are enlarged, twisted veins that are visible under the skin, typically in the legs. They occur when the vein valves that help blood return to the heart malfunction, causing blood to pool and veins to swell. Some varicose vein cancer symptoms include visible bulging veins, leg pain, and skin discoloration.

Spider Veins

Spider veins are small and thin veins that appear close to the surface of the skin and look like spider webs or tree branches. They are caused by increased pressure in the veins and poor blood circulation. Symptoms are red, blue, or purple web-like veins that are visible on the skin.

Skin Ulcers

Skin ulcers, specifically venous ulcers, are open sores that occur on the legs due to chronic venous insufficiency. They develop when the skin breaks down due to prolonged pressure and poor circulation. A common symptom would be open sores that are slow to heal. 

Can Diabetes cause brown skin discoloration on my lower legs?

Can Diabetes cause brown skin discoloration on my lower legs?

Diabetes affects various systems in the body, including the skin. As such, yes, diabetes can cause brown skin discoloration on your lower legs. This condition is often referred to as diabetic dermopathy. Diabetic dermopathy is a skin condition characterized by light brown, scaly patches that often appear on the shins. These patches are sometimes referred to as “shin spots”. The symptoms are generally asymptomatic and are typically found on the shins but can appear on other parts of the legs. They are caused by high blood sugar levels damaging blood vessels, leading to poor blood circulation. This reduced blood flow affects the skin, causing various skin conditions.

If diabetic skin conditions like diabetic dermopathy are left untreated, they can lead to serious complications. These could include leg ulcers, infection, peripheral arterial disease (PAD), and necrobiosis lipoidica

Is Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) the Reason I Have Discoloration On My Legs?

PAD can indeed cause discoloration on your legs. It is a condition where the arteries that supply blood to the limbs become narrowed or blocked due to a buildup of fatty deposits. Thus, reducing blood flow.

PAD can cause skin changes due to reduced blood flow and oxygen supply to the tissues. The lack of adequate blood flow can lead to discoloration, hair loss, and leg ulcers.

Symptoms include leg pain, leg numbness and weakness, coldness in the lower leg or foot, sores that won’t heal, hair loss or slower hair growth, changes in leg color, shiny skin, etc.

There are also questions surrounding the hereditary factor of PAD. The question of PAD being hereditary does not have a yes or no answer. While having a family history of PAD does not mean you will develop the disease, it leaves you at a higher risk.

Diagnosing Brown Skin Discoloration

Diagnosing Brown Skin Discoloration

Diagnosing brown skin discoloration on the lower legs requires the expertise of a healthcare professional, particularly a vascular specialist or a dermatologist. A vein specialist, such as Dr. Moinakhtar Lala at CACVI, is well-equipped to evaluate, give proper diagnosis, and treat conditions related to poor blood circulation and vein diseases.

When to See a Doctor for Skin Discoloration on Legs?

You should see a doctor for skin discoloration on your legs if you notice persistent discoloration, pain and discomfort, open sores, and leg swelling. It is also a cause for concern when there is itching and changes in skin texture. 

During the consultation process, the doctor will review your medical history, including any existing conditions like vein reflux in the legs, varicose veins, venous insufficiency leg ulcers, or diabetes. Then, there would be a thorough examination of your legs to assess the extent and nature of the discoloration. The specialist will then talk with you about your symptoms, their duration, and any factors that worsen or alleviate them. Finally, they will carry out some diagnostic tests to determine the underlying cause of the discoloration. 

What tests are used in Diagnosis?

Some common tests and procedures for diagnosing leg discoloration include Doppler ultrasound, venography, ankle-brachial index (ABI), blood tests, and skin biopsy. Tests like Doppler ultrasound and venography provide detailed images and information about blood flow and vein health. This helps to diagnose venous insufficiency, varicose veins, and deep vein thrombosis.

Furthermore, the ABI test helps diagnose PAD by measuring and comparing blood pressure in different parts of the body. Blood tests and skin biopsies can also reveal underlying health issues that may be causing or contributing to skin discoloration.

Treatment Options For Brown Skin Discoloration On The Legs

Treatment Options For Brown Skin Discoloration On The Legs

Brown skin discoloration on the lower legs can be caused by various underlying conditions, such as chronic venous insufficiency, varicose veins, and peripheral artery disease. Addressing the root cause by carrying out a peripheral vascular disease evaluation is essential for effective treatment and improvement of skin health.

Medical Treatments

Typically, anticoagulants are prescribed for brown staining. They help prevent blood clots which can reduce the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and related complications. Diuretics are also usually prescribed as they help reduce fluid retention.

When brown skin discoloration on the legs worsens, surgical options may be considered. It could be vein stripping and ligation which removes or ties off diseased veins, especially in severe cases of varicose veins. They could also consider new treatments for leg ulcers and treatments for PAD like Endovenous Laser Treatment (EVLT) and Sclerotherapy. 

Lifestyle and Home Remedies

Engaging in skin care, exercise, and maintaining a healthy diet are helpful lifestyle and home remedies. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can improve overall vascular health and reduce the risk of vein diseases. In addition, activities such as walking, cycling, and swimming can improve blood flow and strengthen leg muscles to support better circulation.

For skin care, you should use products that keep the skin hydrated and prevent dryness and scaling. You should also use topical creams that contain ingredients like hydroquinone or retinoids can help lighten hyperpigmented areas.

Alternative Therapies

Herbal supplements serve as helpful alternative therapies. For example, horse chestnut is known to improve symptoms of chronic venous insufficiency, and gotu kola enhances circulation and strengthens blood vessels. 

You can also opt for compression therapy as compression stockings help improve blood flow and open blocked veins in the legs, reduce swelling, and prevent blood pooling in the veins. For compression stockings, you should use them during the day, especially when standing or sitting for long periods.

Need a Vascular Consultation?

Brown skin discoloration on the lower legs can be a sign of various underlying conditions such as chronic venous insufficiency, varicose veins, peripheral artery disease, and diabetic dermopathy. These conditions often result from poor blood circulation and damage to blood vessels, leading to symptoms like leg swelling, skin changes, and the development of ulcers. Accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment are crucial to manage these conditions and prevent further complications.

If you notice brown skin discoloration on your lower legs or any related symptoms, it is important to seek personalized advice and treatment from a healthcare professional. Our vascular specialist can provide a comprehensive evaluation and recommend the best treatment options for your specific condition.

Ensure the health of your legs by seeking timely medical attention. Take the first step towards healthier legs by scheduling a consultation with our experts at our Center for Advanced Cardiac and Vascular Interventions in LA (CACVI). We are always here for you! 


If you were told you need an amputation, get a second opinion! We are board certified consultants in endovascular interventions committed to improving the quality of your life and the lives of those you love!

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