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.
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.
Deep vein thrombosis
Adrenergic bronchodilators overdose
Carbon monoxide poisoning
Exposure to cold temperatures (air or water)
Congestive heart failure
Peripheral vascular disease
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
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
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.