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Peripheral cyanosis
Cyanosis refers to a bluish cast to the skin and mucous membranes caused by a lower level of circulating oxygen carried by the red blood cells....

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Peripheral cyanosis describes a bluish discoloration of the skin that may be a sign of lack of oxygen in the blood or represent the presence of an abnormal form of hemoglobin.

Alternative Names

Peripheral cyanosis.


Cyanosis refers to a bluish cast to the skin and mucous membranes caused by a lower level of circulating oxygen carried by 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 lips or the fingertips 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. Peripheral cyanosis is usually due to slowing of the blood blow to an area with vasoconstriction, such as occurs in exposure to cold, shock, congestive heart failure and peripheral vascular disease.

Associated Diagnoses

  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • Adrenergic bronchodilators overdose
  • Arteriosclerosis
  • Aspiration pneumonia
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Cardiac tamponade
  • Emphysema
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Shock
  • Exposure to cold temperatures (air or water)
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Peripheral vascular disease
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Polycythemia vera
  • Pulmonary edema
  • Cor pulmonale
  • Septicemia
  • RSV infection

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 peripheral cyanosis. Treatment involves identifying and correcting the underlying cause and restoring the oxygenated blood flow to the affected parts of the body.

Call 911 if:

Blue lips 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

Written by: JC Jones MA, RN
Reviewed by: Paul Auerbach, MD
Written: September 25, 2007
Last Updated: September 30, 2007
Published By: Healthline Networks Inc.
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