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There are 19 possible causes of discoloration of skin

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Blue Skin Discoloration - Cyanosis

Cyanosis is a term used to describe a bluish tint to your skin, as well as your fingernails and fingertips. It is a condition caused by not having enough oxygen in your blood. In people with light skin, such as Caucasians, this is quite distinctive. It can be more difficult to distinguish in people with darker skin, such those of African descent. In people with darker skin, it may be more obvious in their nails.

What Are the Common Underlying Causes of Cyanosis?

Cyanosis can develop quickly or it can develop over time as a result of a chronic (long-term) health problem. Many of the health conditions that cause cyanosis are the result of abnormalities in the blood, lungs, or heart. Blood abnormalities may make it difficult for the blood to absorb oxygen. Lung abnormalities may be related to the following conditions:

  • a blood clot in the vessels of the lung (pulmonary embolism)
  • an infection in the airways such as bronchitis
  • diseases that affect lung function such as asthma or COPD
  • pneumonia
  • obstruction of the airway caused by a foreign object (choking)
  • epiglottitis (infection of the tissue around the windpipe)
  • seizures

Abnormalities with the heart can also cause cyanosis and may include:

  • heart failure
  • heart defects diagnosed at birth (congenital)
  • cardiac arrest

Other issues can also cause cyanosis. These health issues include:

  • overdoses of certain medications
  • hypothermia (prolonged exposure to the cold)
  • exposure to poisons such as cyanide
  • venous thrombosis (a blood clot in a vein)
  • Raynaud’s syndrome (a condition resulting in severe restriction of the blood flow to the fingers or toes)

Most cases of cyanosis are serious. If cyanosis develops, it typically indicates that the body is not able to acquire enough oxygen. Over time, this condition can be life threatening.

When Should You Seek Emergency Help?

If you experience bluish skin you should call your doctor. If you develop bluish skin you should seek emergency medical attention if the following symptoms also develop:

  • shortness of breath
  • breathing faster
  • needing to lean forward to breathe
  • chest pain
  • changes in mental status including confusion
  • fever
  • coughing up mucus that is dark

If you have a child that is cyanotic you should seek emergency medical attention if the following symptoms develop:

  • difficulty breathing
  • breathing more than 60 breaths each minute
  • grunting noises
  • loss of appetite
  • changes in mental status including irritability
  • child is not moving much and is limp
  • flaring nostrils when breathing

How Can the Symptoms of Cyanosis be Treated?

If your cyanosis is caused by Raynaud’s syndrome or hypothermia, you can treat this condition at home. Dress warmly and make sure that you stay in a room that is well heated.

If the symptoms of cyanosis are not caused by these conditions, you will need to seek medical attention. Your doctor will perform a complete physical exam and will ask you about your current health conditions and when your symptoms developed. Your doctor will also use several tests to determine what is causing your bluish skin color. Tests may include:

  • analysis of arterial blood gases
  • pulse oximetry to measure the level of oxygen in your blood
  • complete blood count (CBC)
  • X-ray of the chest
  • electrocardiogram (ECG) to measure the electrical activity of the heart

Once your doctor diagnoses the cause of your condition, he or she will be able to provide you with appropriate treatment. If you are having difficulty breathing, your doctor may also prescribe supplemental oxygen therapy. The oxygen will be delivered through a mask or a tube placed in your nose (nasal cannula).

What Are the Complications of Cyanosis?

Cyanosis typically indicates a serious life-threatening health problem. If you develop cyanosis you may experience difficulty breathing, cardiac arrest, respiratory arrest, and even death.

How Can You Prevent Cyanosis?

Cyanosis may develop rapidly making it difficult to prevent. Additionally, symptoms of the condition may occur gradually over time making it difficult to detect changes in your skin color. This can complicate efforts to prevent cyanosis. However, if you have conditions that can cause cyanosis such as congestive heart failure or COPD, there are steps that you can take to help prevent cyanosis:

  • follow your doctor’s recommendations for care
  • get regular physical exams to monitor your health
  • call your doctor if you notice any changes in your health

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Possible Causes - Listed in order from the most common to the least.

1

Bruises

A bruise or “contusion” appears on the skin when it has suffered trauma such as a cut or a blow to the area. The injury causes tiny blood vessels called capillaries to burst, and blood is trapped below the skin’...

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2

Seborrheic Keratosis

Seborrheic keratosis is a type of harmless skin growth that bears a resemblance to skin cancer. Growths may have a wart-like surface and waxy appearance.

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3

Necrotizing Fasciitis (Soft Tissue Inflammation)

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

Necrotizing fasciitis is a type of soft tissue infection. It can destroy the tissue in your skin and muscles as well as subcutaneous tissue. Necrotizing fasciitis is most commonly caused by an infection with group ...

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4

Varicose Veins

Varicose veins, also known as varicosis or varicosity, occur when your veins become over-filled with blood. Varicose veins are often painful and unsightly, with a bluish-purple or red coloration. Often, varicose vein...

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5

Megaloblastic Anemia

Megaloblastic anemia is a blood disorder marked by the appearance of very large red blood cells that crowd out healthy cells, causing anemia. Numbness or tingling in hands and feet is common sign.

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6

Alcoholic Liver Disease

Damage to the liver from excessive drinking can lead to ALD. Years of alcohol abuse cause the liver to become inflamed and swollen. This damage can also cause scarring known as cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is the final stage o...

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7

Snake Bites

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

A venomous snake bite can be deadly and is a medical emergency. Even a bite from a harmless snake can cause infection or an allergic reaction, producing symptoms like pain and swelling, convulsions, nausea, or paralysis.

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9

Sprains & Strains

Sprains and strains are injuries to the body, often resulting from physical activity. These injuries are common and can range from minor to severe, depending on the incident. Most don

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10

Warts

Warts are raised bumps on your skin caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Warts have plagued humans for thousands of years-they have been discovered on 3,000-year-old mummies and were mentioned by Shakespeare...

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11

Pregnancy

Pregnancy occurs when a sperm fertilizes an egg after it is released from the ovary. An egg enters one of the fallopian tubes where it may be fertilized. The egg then enters the uterus where implantation occurs...

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12

Vitiligo

Vitiligo is a condition in which you lose the pigment of your skin. Pigment causes skin color and is produced by cells called "melanocytes." Another word for pigment is "melanin." Most people with vitiligo lose pigmen...

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13

Kwashiorkor

Kwashiorkor is the most common and widespread nutritional disorder in developing countries. It is a form of malnutrition caused by not getting enough protein in your diet. Every cell in your body contains protein. Yo...

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14

End-Stage Kidney Disease

A diagnosis of end-stage kidney disease means that you are in the final stage of kidney disease, and your kidneys are not functioning well enough to meet the needs of daily life. Your kidneys are responsible fo...

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15

Leprosy

Leprosy is a chronic, progressive bacterial infection. It primarily affects the nerves of the extremities, the lining of the nose, and the upper respiratory tract. It is caused by the bacteria Mycobacteriu...

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16

Medullary Cystic Disease

Medullary cystic kidney disease (MCKD) is a rare condition in which small, fluid-filled sacs called cysts form in the center of the kidneys. These cysts scar the kidneys and cause them to malfunction. In order t...

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17

Acanthosis Nigricans

Acanthosis nigricans is a fairly common skin pigmentation disorder. The most notable sign of acanthosis nigricans is dark patches of skin with a thick, velvety texture. These patches may appear on the armpits, groin...

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18

All About Autonomic Dysrelexia (or Hyperreflexia)

Autonomic dysreflexia (AD) is a condition where the involuntary nervous system overreacts to external or bodily stimuli. This reaction causes a dangerous spike in blood pressure, racing heart, constriction of periphera...

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19

Adrenoleukodystrophy

Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD) refers to several different inherited conditions that affect the nervous system and adrenal glands. Other names for it are adrenomyeloneuropathy, childhood cerebral ALD, and Schilder-Addiso...

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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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