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Cyanosis is a bluish color to the skin or mucus membranes due to a lack of oxygen in the blood.
Lips - bluish; Fingernails - bluish; Cyanosis; Bluish lips and fingernails; Bluish skin
The coloration of the skin is caused by the amount of pigment in the skin and the blood flowing through it. Blood that is saturated with oxygen is bright red. 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.
Cyanosis can be caused by:
Most cyanosis occurs as a result of:
Mild cyanosis may be hard to detect. Usually the oxygen saturation of the blood has to drop from the normal level of nearly 100% to below 90% before cyanosis occurs.
In dark-skinned people, cyanosis may be easier to see in the mucus membranes (lips, gums, around the eyes) and nail beds, rather than in the skin. It may also appear on the feet, nose, and ears.
People with a problem called Raynaud's phenomenon may develop a blue color in their fingers or hands when they are exposed to cold.
A blood clot that blocks the blood supply to a leg, foot, hand, or arm will cause bluish skin.
Other causes of bluish skin (cyanosis) include:
Problems with the lungs
Problems with the airways leading to the lungs
Problems with the heart
For cyanosis caused by exposure to cold, dress warmly when going outside or stay in a well-heated room.
Bluish skin (cyanosis) can be a sign of many serious medical problems and should be taken seriously.
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:
Call or visit your health care provider if you have any unexplained changes in the color of your skin or mucus membranes.
Your health care provider will perform a physical examination, which includes listening to your breathing and heart sounds. In emergency situations (such as shock), the patient 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.
Bocock J, Kolodzik J. Cyanosis. In: Marx JA, ed. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier;2006:chap 30.
Kraft M. Approach to the patient with respiratory disease. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2007:chap 83.