Cyanosis: Causes, Symptoms, Types, Treatment, What does it mean when your Lips are Blue?

About Cyanosis:

Cyanosis is identified as a bluish discoloration of one’s skin, lips, nail beds, tongue, mucous membranes and this is the result of an augmented concentration of lessened haemoglobin in the circulation. This problem occurs when a patient has an oxygen saturation of either 85% or lesser than that. However, mild cyanosis is tough to detect. The problem of cyanosis is generally easier to get detected with natural lighting and it is commonly tougher to detect in patients who are suffering from anaemia or have dark skin pigmentation. A long-term complication of this disease comprises of cerebrovascular accident, polycythaemia, clubbing, platelet abnormalities, brain abscess, scoliosis, hyperuricemia or lower-than-expected IQ.

About Cyanosis

What Does It Mean When Your Lips Are Blue?

When you have a bluish or purple discoloration of your lips and tongues as well as mucous membranes of mouth, it means that you are suffering from cyanosis. This is observed in the disorders of the lungs or heart and in irregular haemoglobin conditions, such as sulfhemoglobin and methaemoglobin. It is caused by lessened circulation of blood in the peripheral limbs and organs. This may be the result of stagnation or stasis of blood plus extreme abstraction of oxygen from the blood which makes it deoxygenated and manifests as cyanosis. In this, the patient’s affected parts turn purple or bluish and feel cold when touched. This is generally noticed in the nail beds. The common symptoms are shortness of breath, breathlessness, purple or bluish discoloration of the mucous membranes, shallow and rapid breathing etc. The patients’ feet and hands are generally warm or normal temperature and they may be cold when there is a linked peripheral cyanosis. The symptoms of cyanosis include:

Symptoms of Cyanosis in Infants:

Infants affected with cyanosis sweat or get tired at the time of feeding plus they show very less weight gain. They are actually born with an excessive low birth weight.

These infants are easily irritable and feel limp or floppy.

Symptoms of Cyanosis in Children:

Children suffering from cyanotic heart disease do suffer from fainting spells. Additionally, children suffering from this disease are liable to recurrent chest infections.

Types of Cyanosis

Cyanosis may be of two different types:

  • Central Cyanosis: Central cyanosis occurs when a person suffers from diseases of his lungs, heart or abnormal haemoglobin, such as sulfhemoglobin or methaemoglobin etc. This problem is generally identified as purple or bluish discoloration of the linings of the tongue or mouth.
  • Peripheral Cyanosis: Peripheral cyanosis happens because of the slowing of blood that permits more time for removing oxygen with the help of tissues for making the disease apparent on the ear lobule, the tip of the nose, nail-bed, cheek, and the tip of the finger.

Causes of Cyanosis

The cause of this problem in a new-born is known as congenital heart disease or cyanotic heart disease. This comprises of conditions like:

  • Persistent fetal circulation
  • Tetralogy of Fallot
  • Hypoplastic or small left heart
  • Anomalous pulmonary venous return
  • Truncus arteriosus
  • Inversion of great arteries.

These conditions do develop when the new-born is suffering from a genetic problem like Turner Syndrome, Down Syndrome, Noonan Syndrome, Marfan’s Syndrome etc. Women who suffer from diabetes during their pregnancy and women who take some over-the-counter and prescription medications as well as street drugs at the time of their pregnancy do suffer from a danger of giving birth to their baby suffering from a congenital heart problem.
Reasons of cyanosis due to the respiratory system are:

  • Pneumothorax
  • Respiratory distress syndrome
  • Asphyxia or birth injury
  • Brief tachypnoea of the new-born
  • A diaphragmatic hernia
  • Lung or pulmonary edema
  • The obstacle of the patient’s respiratory tract
  • Trachea-oesophageal fistula
  • Choking on meconium in a baby
  • Diseases in circulation, such as embolism or thrombosis
  • Lessened pumping of blood by the patient’s heart or lessened cardiac output. It is mainly observed in circulatory shock or heart failure.
  • Restriction of blood vessels of toes, fingers, and limbs.

Causes of cyanosis in adults are:

  • High altitude sickness
  • Lung edema
  • Severe pneumonia
  • Lung thromboembolism
  • Severe adult respiratory distress syndrome
  • Chronic obstructive lung disease
  • Severe attack of asthma.

Treatment of Cyanosis

When the problem of cyanosis is because of congenital heart defects then it involves surgery, like, TOF (Therapy of Tetralogy of Fallot). It requires surgery immediately after birth. When the problem is less serious, then the surgery can be performed when the child attains the age of 3-6 months. Sometimes, open heart surgery is needed for treating congenital heart defects. In this process, the heart valves get corrected. The treatment of this condition is dependent on its underlying reason. Therefore, the physician recommends one or more than one treatment options like:

  • Providing oxygen therapy
  • Warming the affected parts
  • Managing glucose infusions
  • Surgical intervention, when the patient suffers from a brain injury
  • Organizing intravenous fluids
  • Erectile dysfunction drugs
  • Antihypertension drugs
  • Antidepressants.

Besides the aforementioned treatment methods, the physician might prescribe medicines for improving the capability of the patient’s heart for pumping blood, lessening the number of unnecessary body fluids, widen the blood vessels and normalizing the heartbeat. Sometimes, doctors prescribe medications, like antibiotics for preventing infections.


As cyanosis is the result of severe health condition so a deferred treatment can cause permanent damage and complex health issues to a patient. When the problem gets identified, the patient must be provided immediate treatment so as to lessen complications, like loss of limb, ulceration or gangrene, respiratory failure, sepsis, and heart failure.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:September 20, 2018

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