What causes blue fingernails? 28 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

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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4

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

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

Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs when we inhale too much carbon monoxide. It can lead to tissue damage and possibly death. Signs include a dull headache, nausea, confusion, and blue lips or skin.

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5

Arterial Embolism

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

An arterial embolism is a blood clot that has become stuck in the arteries. This can block or restrict blood flow, causing tissue damage or death in the affected area. Clots generally affect the arms, legs, or feet.

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6

Asthma Overview

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

Read more »

7

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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8

Raynaud's Phenomenon

Raynaud's phenomenon is a condition where blood flow to your fingers, toes, ears or nose is restricted or interrupted. This occurs when the blood vessels in your hands or feet constrict. Episodes of constriction ar...

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9

Pneumothorax (Collapsed Lung)

Pneumothorax is a collapsed lung. This occurs when air becomes trapped in the space around the lungs. Along with a steady ache in the chest and shortness of breath, your skin or lips may turn blue.

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10

Pulmonary Fibrosis

Pulmonary fibrosis is a condition that causes lung scarring and stiffness. This keeps the body from getting enough oxygen.

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11

Bronchiectasis

Bronchiectasis is a condition where the bronchial tubes of your lungs are permanently damaged and enlarged. These damaged air passages allow bacteria and mucus to build up in your lungs, which result in infections an...

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12

The Catastrophy of Cardiac Tamponade

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

Cardiac tamponade is a condition where the sac that encases your heart fills with fluid and then puts pressure on your heart. This undue pressure keeps the heart from filling with blood properly. When this happens, th...

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13

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. Children often choke as a result of placing foreign objects into their mouths. Adults normally choke due to breathing in fumes or eating o...

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14

Cor Pulmonare

Cor pulmonale is a condition that most commonly arises out of complications from pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure). It is also known as right-sided heart failure because it occurs within the right ventricl...

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15

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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16

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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17

Tetralogy of Fallot (TOF)

The main function of your heart is to pump blood through the rest of the body. This blood gives your body nutrients and oxygen. If your heart does not work properly, it may not be efficient in pumping blood to othe...

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18

Polycythemia Vera

Polycythemia vera (PV) is a bone marrow disorder in which the body produces an excessive amount of red blood cells. Red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen to all parts of the body. Blood is carrie...

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19

Epiglottitis

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

Epiglottitis is a life-threatening condition characterized by inflamed epiglottis tissue. The epiglottis is made of cartilage and is located at the base of the tongue. It helps prevent food from entering your windpipe...

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20

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. The most common cause of pulmonary edema is congestive heart failure. Heart failure i...

Read more »

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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