What causes blue fingernails? 29 possible conditions

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Definition

Bluish discoloration of the skin may be a sign of lack of oxygen in the blood.

Alternative Names

Fingernail cyanosis.

Synopsis

Blue fingernails may represent a type of cyanosis caused by a lower level of lack of circulating oxygen in the red blood cells. It may also represent a high level of an abnormal form of hemoglobin in the circulation. If normal color returns upon warming and/or massage, the cause is due to the body part not getting enough blood supply due to cold, constriction (of the tissues or the blood vessels that supply the tissues) or some other reason. If the fingernails remain blue, then there may be an underlying disease or structural abnormality interfering with the body’s ability to deliver oxygenated red blood to the body.

Associated Diagnoses

  • Asthma
  • Adult respiratory distress syndrome
  • Aspiration pneumonia
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Cardiac tamponade
  • Emphysema
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Polycythemia vera
  • Pulmonary edema

Diagnosis and Treatment

A non-invasive pulse oximeter is the simplest way to measure the oxygenation of the blood. Arterial blood gases (ABG’s) are drawn to measure oxygenation and determine other factors that may be contributing to blue fingernails. Treatment involves identifying and correcting the underlying cause and restoring the oxygenated blood flow to the fingers.

Call 911 if:

Blue fingernails are accompanied by:

  • Air hunger or gasping for breath
  • Shortness of breath or breathing difficulties
  • Chest pain
  • Sweating profusely
  • Pain or numbness in the arm, hands or fingers
  • Pallor or blanching of the arm, hands or fingers
  • Dizziness or fainting
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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.

1

Emphysema

Emphysema is a lung disease that, along with chronic bronchitis, represents a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Lack of oxygen may give skin and lips a bluish hue.

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2

Peripheral Vascular Disease

Peripheral vascular disease is a circulation disorder caused by plaque build-up in peripheral arteries. It typically affects the arteries that supply blood to the arms, legs, and organs located below the stomach.

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3

Asthma Overview

Learn about asthma. Explore the types of asthma and read information about their symptoms, causes and treatments. Continue reading!

Read more »

4

Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is a severe lung condition that occurs when fluid fills up the air sacs in your lungs. Common symptoms include labored breathing, fever, fast pulse, and blue skin or nails.

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5

Choking Adult Or Child Over 1 Year

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Choking occurs when an object, food, or liquid becomes lodged in the throat. Emergency signs of choking include the inability to speak, cough, or breathe. Lips may start to turn blue from lack of oxygen.

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6

The Catastrophy of Cardiac Tamponade

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Cardiac tamponade is a serious medical condition in which fluids fill the space between the sac around the heart and the heart muscle, creating pressure. Symptoms include anxiety, short breath, fainting, and more.

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7

Pulmonary Edema

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Pulmonary edema is a condition in which the lungs fill with fluid. When this occurs, the body struggles to get enough oxygen, often resulting in breathlessness, coughing, excessive sweating, and bluish skin or lips.

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8

Pulmonary Embolism

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A pulmonary embolism is a blood clot that affects blood flow to the lungs. It can damage part of the lung due to restricted blood flow, decrease blood oxygen. The most common symptom is shortness of breath.

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9

Epiglottitis

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Epiglottitis is a life-threatening condition characterized by inflamed epiglottis tissue. Once the airway becomes blocked, an adult or child may exhibit bluish discoloration of their skin or lips from lack of oxygen.

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10

Chronic Bronchitis

Your bronchial tubes are responsible for delivering air to your lungs. When these tubes become inflamed, mucus can build up. The coughing and shortness of breath this causes is known as bronchitis. People often develo...

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11

Septicemia

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Septicemia is also known as bacteremia or blood poisoning. Septicemia occurs when a bacterial infection enters the bloodstream. Untreated septicemia can quickly progress to sepsis, which is a serious complication of a...

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12

RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) Infection

Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a common virus that can affect individuals of all ages. It is more common among children and infants than it is among adults. For adults and healthy children, RSV causes symptom...

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13

Chemical Burns

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Chemical burns occur when the skin or eyes come into contact with irritants, such as acids or bases (alkaline). Chemicals that come into contact with skin may cause a reaction on the skin or within the body. Chemica...

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14

Getting a Handle on Aspiration Pneumonia

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Aspiration pneumonia is an inflammation of your lungs and bronchial tubes. It happens after you inhale foreign matter. It is also known as anaerobic pneumonia. This condition is caused by inhaling materials such a...

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15

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a gas that is both odorless and colorless. It emanates from anything that produces combustion fumes. Common devices that produce these fumes include: heaters fireplaces car mufflers space heater...

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16

Acute Mountain Sickness

Hikers, skiers and adventurers who travel to high altitudes can sometimes develop acute mountain sickness, also referred to as altitude sickness or high altitude pulmonary edema. It typically occurs at about 8,000 fee...

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17

Breathing Difficulties

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Breathing difficulties make you feel as though you cannot get enough air. Mild breathing problems, such as fatigue following an aerobics class, are not a concern. Frequently occurring shortness of breath or sudden...

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18

Arterial Embolism

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

An arterial embolism is a blood clot that has travelled through your arteries and become stuck. This can block or restrict blood flow. Clots generally affect the arms, legs, or feet. An "embolism" is anything tha...

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19

Pneumothorax (Collapsed Lung)

Pneumothorax is the medical term for a collapsed lung. Pneumothorax occurs when air becomes trapped in the space around the lungs-the pleural space. This can cause the lung to collapse and put pressure on the heart. Th...

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20

Ventricular Septal Defects

A ventral septal defect, more commonly known as a ventricular septal defect (VSD), is a hole between the heart's lower chambers (ventricles). The defect can occur anywhere within the muscle dividing the two sides of th...

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
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