What Is Livedo Reticularis?

People, especially women, may experience livedo reticularis in response to being cold.
Livedo reticularis causes a mottled pattern on the skin.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Images By: Timonko, n/a
  • Last Modified Date: 12 October 2014
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Livedo reticularis is a skin condition that causes skin discoloration in what is termed a “mottled” pattern. It may be either extremely benign or symptomatic of more serious underlying conditions. It’s usually not something that can be treated, and for many people, the reddish or sometimes bluish markings that resemble a net go completely away and don’t return. Other people may end up with permanent signs of livedo reticularis, if the condition occurs often or is underscored by systemic issues.

The actual cause of livedo reticularis is underneath the skin in the upper blood vessels and capillaries. If these open and dilate, blood may collect in a pool. This translates to red or blue marking on the skin, most often in areas like the arms, legs, and back. Sometimes infants may show this, especially in response to cold. It’s not an uncommon response to cold in adults, either, especially in women. Usually, once the skin is warm, the mottling disappears, but if it occurs very often, appearance of redness on the skin might begin to remain, and there is no way to rid the skin of its appearance.

Though livedo reticularis may be benign in many cases, it may well indicate underlying problems. One of the most serious of these is lupus, an autoimmune disorder. Other illnesses that have been associated with developing temporary or permanent livedo reticularis include rheumatoid arthritis, tuberculosis, lymphoma, and a variety of conditions that create swollen blood vessels, which may all be termed vasculitis.

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Other potential causes of livedo reticularis that can be serious, and can explain dilation of blood vessels, include those conditions or factors that result in blockage or obstruction of blood vessels. High platelet amounts or presence of blood clots could result in it, as could blockages caused by infection or by obstructions that are created during certain activities such as an injection.

While many people who temporarily have this condition recover fully without another bout, or only have expression of the condition when exposed to cold, others may have a much harder time due to underlying causal factors. Unfortunately, treating these factors doesn’t necessarily get rid of mottled skin appearance. Nevertheless, presence of this skin condition is well worth exploring because the conditions that can cause it may very well need treatment and should not be ignored. If people note anything but the most transient appearance of livedo reticularis, and particularly if they notice it recurring, they need to mention this to doctors.

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Discuss this Article

anon944826
Post 7

Every morning I get these on both my legs, but by around 9:30 a.m., (I get up at 7 a.m.) they tend to be completely gone. It does worry me and I'd love to know what causes it to come and go on such a daily basis.

anon293593
Post 5

Well my right leg looks like many of the pictures I've seen related to this, but what I haven't seen is a comparison of symptoms.

In the morning my leg looks fine, maybe a hint of stretch marks over the larger veins and if I rub my hand over the marks, they will go away temporarily. My leg looks fine when I'm lying down, but standing and the veins come back, which makes me think it's not anything super serious, but something to do with my circulation. I've been on a waiting list to see a specialist for a few months now. Come November I'll have a better idea.

anon275830
Post 4

I have had this for over two years and just this new years I had a stroke. I was only 31 at that time and was tested finally for lupus which I have had all the symptoms for my whole life but no one ever put it all together until the stroke.

So now I know I have lupus for sure, which explains so very much about everything I have dealt with since I was a little kid. But it's scary as hell to finally know what this skin condition is and that I can't do anything for it and it will get worse. It doesn't mention it in this article, but this disorder is known to trigger TIA strokes, which is what I had. It will also give a false positive for syphilis which also came up in my bloodwork. An informative article but also lacking information.

JessicaLynn
Post 3

I'm a little disturbed by the fact that livedo reticularis vasculitis can start out as a reaction to the cold, and then become a permanent symptom. I feel like it would be so easy to ignore a weird skin reaction to the cold that goes away on its own. I don't think I would go to the doctor in that case.

Then by the time it becomes permanent, it's too late to do anything. How awful!

strawCake
Post 2

@SZapper - Well, livedo reticularis is caused by other things than just the cold. One of the causes of livedo reticularis, lupus, is a pretty serious autoimmune disease. I actually have a friend of a friend who discovered she had lupus because of livedo reticularis.

She was having some other symptoms that she brushed off too. However, she finally went to the doctor when her skin started looking discolored and they figured out that she had lupus. I wonder how many other people get diagnosed this way too? There's nothing like a visible symptom to get people to head to their doctor!

SZapper
Post 1

It sounds like this isn't so much a skin condition as a blood vessel condition. After all, livedo reticularis symptoms are caused by dilation of the blood vessels. The blood vessels dilate and then the blood pools and is visible through the skin.

I'm pretty surprised that the cold can cause this, though. I always thought being cold caused blood vessels to constrict, not dilate. I guess someone who has this condition reacts differently to the cold.

That being said, I'm female, and I've never noticed any symptoms of livedo reticularis, but I will pay closer attention in the future. It's possible I could have had this happen and go away and just not notice.

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