What is cyanosis?

Cyanosis is a bluish hue to the skin, gums, fingernails, or mucous membranes caused by a lack of oxygen in the blood. When blood is fully oxygenated it appears bright red; when it lacks oxygen supply, the blood is a dark purple or bluish red. This lack of oxygen in the blood supply to a body part, such as the nail bed, skin, or mucous membrane, causes that body part to take on a bluish tint.

Oxygen is present in your blood through hemoglobin, a red blood cell protein that carries oxygen. As red blood cells travel through the lungs, hemoglobin picks up oxygen, carries it out to the cells and tissues in the rest of your body, and releases it, at which point the blood becomes cyanotic. Then the blood carrying these red blood cells circulates back again to the lungs for more oxygen. Cyanosis occurs either when there is insufficient fresh oxygen getting to the bloodstream or when sluggish blood can’t reoxygenate quick enough.

Cyanosis can be caused by abnormal hemoglobin or an overall lack of oxygen. An overall lack of oxygen may occur due to through trauma (like choking or suffocation) or chronic disorders that compromise heart or lung function, such as cyanotic heart disease. Abnormal hemoglobin may, for example, take the form of a disorder called methemoglobinemia.

Cyanosis can be a symptom of a serious disorder. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you have bluish coloration of the lips or fingernails and experience difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, chest pain, or confusion or loss of consciousness even for a brief moment. Also seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you are with a child who has bluish skin and is having difficulty breathing, chest muscles pulling in with every breath; rapid breathing; grunting; sitting very still with shoulders hunched; limpness or lethargy; flaring nostrils with breathing; irritability, fussiness, poor feeding, and poor sleeping.

If you notice unusual changes in skin color, or if you have been treated for a disorder related to your cyanosis, but the cyanosis itself is persistent or causes you concern, seek prompt medical care.


What other symptoms might occur with cyanosis?

Cyanosis may accompany other symptoms that vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the circulatory system may also involve other body systems.

Cardiac and respiratory symptoms that may occur along with cyanosis

Cyanosis may accompany other symptoms affecting the heart or respiratory system including:

<... Read more about cyanosissymptoms


What causes cyanosis?

Cyanosis can be caused by abnormal hemoglobin or an overall lack of oxygen. An overall lack of oxygen occurs through trauma, such as choking or suffocation, or such disorders, as cyanotic heart disease.

Cardiovascular causes of cyanosis

Cyanosis may be caused by cardiovascular disorders incl... Read more about cyanosiscauses

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 9, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Skin, Hair and Nails

Top Features in Skin, Hair and Nails

15 Ways To Get Better Medicine

People who are actively involved in their medical care stay healthier, recover quicker when they're ill, and live longer, healthier lives.