Cyanosis is a bluish color to the skin or mucus membranes that is usually due to a lack of oxygen in the blood.
Red blood cells provide oxygen to body tissues. Most of the time, almost all red blood cells in the arteries carry a full supply of oxygen. These blood cells are bright red and the skin has a pinkish or red hue.
Blood that has lost its oxygen is dark bluish-red. People whose blood is low in oxygen tend to have a bluish color to their skin, called cyanosis.
Depending on the cause, cyanosis may develop suddenly, along with shortness of breath and other symptoms.
Cyanosis that is caused by long-term heart or lung problems may develop slowly. Symptoms may be present, but are often not severe.
When oxygen levels have dropped only a small amount, cyanosis may be hard to detect.
In dark-skinned people, cyanosis may be easier to see in the mucus membranes (lips, gums, around the eyes) and nails.
Cyanosis that is seen in only one part of the body may be due to:
LACK OF OXYGEN IN THE BLOOD
Most cyanosis occurs because of a lack of oxygen in the blood. This can be caused by the following problems.
Problems with the lungs:
Problems with the airways leading to the lungs:
Problems with the heart:
For cyanosis caused by exposure to cold or Raynaud phenomenon, dress warmly when going outside or stay in a well-heated room.
Bluish skin (cyanosis) can be a sign of many serious medical problems. Call or visit your health care provider.
For adults, call your doctor or 911 if you have bluish skin and:
For children, call the doctor or 911 if your child has bluish skin and:
Your health care provider will perform a physical examination, which includes listening to your breathing and heart sounds. In emergency situations (such as shock), you will be stabilized first.
Medical history questions may include:
Tests that may be performed include:
For shortness of breath and cyanosis, you may receive oxygen.
Lips - bluish; Fingernails - bluish; Cyanosis; Bluish lips and fingernails; Bluish skin
Kraft M. Approach to the patient with respiratory disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman’s Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 83.
Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.
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