What is paleness?

Paleness, or pallor, is lighter than normal coloration of the skin. It can occur on the skin of the face and body, on the nails, or on the mucous membranes. Mucous membranes line various parts of the body, including the eyes, nose and mouth. Paleness can occur all over or only on certain areas of the body, such as the face and hands. Paleness can also appear in spots or patches.

Paleness can be caused by a variety of underlying diseases, disorders or conditions, ranging in severity from a temporary, relatively benign condition to one that is serious or even life threatening. Depending on the underlying cause, paleness can last a few seconds to weeks and months or longer.

Sudden paleness that fades within a few minutes, such as a person looking white as a sheet, could be due to sudden emotional distress, low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), or vasovagal syncope, which commonly causes fainting. In all of these situations, there has been an interruption of the normal flow of fresh, oxygenated blood to the tissues.

Overall paleness may be due to inheriting generally light skin or a form of albinism. Albinism is an inability to produce and distribute normal amounts of melanin, a skin pigment, resulting in very pale skin, eyes and hair. Paleness can also be caused by environmental and dietary factors, such as cold temperatures, frostbite, dehydration, scurvy, or lack of sun exposure. Various diseases, including anemia, and certain medications or illicit drugs can also cause ongoing paleness. Anemia itself is caused by a wide variety of diseases, disorders and conditions and affects more than three million people in the United States (Source: OWH).

Paleness may occur by itself or, depending on the underlying cause, may occur with other symptoms, such as dizziness, fainting, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, weakness, or skin throbbing, aching, or numbness.

Complications of severe anemia and other serious causes of paleness, such as heart failure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, can be serious and life threatening. Seek prompt medical care if you have symptoms of anemia, such as mild dizziness or weakness, or if you have a low energy level and tire easily. Prompt diagnosis and treatment of anemia and its underlying cause reduces the risk of serious complications.

Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have a sudden change in alertness or consciousness, severe shortness of breath, chest pain, or uncontrolled bleeding, such as bleeding heavily from the rectum, bloody stools, or vomiting blood.


What other symptoms might occur with paleness?

Paleness may occur alone or with other symptoms. When you have unexplained paleness or skin color changes that concern you, it is important to pay close attention to any other symptoms you may have. This will help you and your licensed medical professional pinpoint and treat the underlying cause.

When general paleness appears gradually over time (or suddenly in some cases), it may... Read more about palenesssymptoms


What causes paleness?

Paleness can be caused by a variety of underlying diseases, disorders and conditions, including heart attack and respiratory conditions, such as emphysema, heart failure, acute asthma, and respiratory failure. Paleness can also be the result of cold temperatures, frostbite, dehydration, and use of certain medication... Read more about palenesscauses

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 20, 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

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