We often notice some people having bluish color on their hands, fingers or nails. Have you ever wondered as to what does blue hands and fingers mean? Bluish discoloration can be a simple change in the body or sometimes, can be a sign of some underlying medical condition. Hence, it is important to know the causes of blue hands and fingers.

What Does Blue Hands and Fingers Indicate?

What Does Blue Hands and Fingers Indicate?

The medical term given to the bluish discoloration of fingers, nail bed and hands is cyanosis which is a condition that occurs when there is insufficient oxygen in the blood. The presence of cyanosis is quite alarming in some cases, as it is caused by different conditions which can be quite serious and also prove fatal in extreme cases. When cyanosis occurs in our hands and fingers only, it is known as peripheral cyanosis.

The normal skin color is light brown as this is the color given by the skin pigment melanin. Special skin cells known as melanocytes produce this pigment which is responsible for the human skin color. The capillaries, which are tiny blood vessels in the skin, also contribute to the skin color.

When dilated, the capillaries get more blood in it which means that there is sufficient oxygen in it. This makes the skin look pink or red in color. However, with reduced blood circulation, oxygen starts getting depleted from the skin with the latter falling into a hypoxemic state. When oxygen becomes deficient, it changes the color of hemoglobin to reddish violet which gives the skin a bluish color, hence cyanosis. Blue hands and fingers could mean a serious medical issue, hence timely action is important. Blue discoloration of skin or blue hands and fingers, can be more prominent in people who have light colored skin as compared to those individuals who have dark colored skin. So identifying bluish discoloration is far easier in light colored skin people. In dark colored skin people, bluish discoloration in the nails mainly helps identify the issue. Being a sign for a serious medical issue, cyanosis must be treated quickly. After knowing what blue hands and fingers mean, you must also know what causes it, to be able to manage the condition.

What are the Causes of Blue Hands and Fingers?

There are several medical issues which can cause blue hands and fingers. Lung diseases, heart diseases and abnormality in the blood are the major reasons with many more too. Here are some of the major causes of blue hands and fingers.

  • Environmental Factors – Climbing high altitudes can result in blue hands or fingers which happen mainly due to the low levels of oxygen at high altitudes. At such altitudes, the blood in your body has very low saturation of oxygen which can result in peripheral cyanosis. Another environmental factor which can result in blue hands and fingers is extremely cold weather. When your hands become exposed to very cold weather conditions, the skin's surface vessels start getting constricted thereby causing blue discoloration of hands and fingers. Thus, blue hands and fingers in these cases, could mean the body is trying to adapt with the changes in the environment or temperature.
  • Heart and blood vessels disorder – Any kind of heart ailment or blood vessel disorder can result in improper blood circulation which can lead to blue hands and fingers and nails too. Heart attack, tricuspid valve disease, pericarditis and congestive cardiac failure are some of the congenital heart defects which can reduce the circulation of the blood to the periphery and cause blue hands and fingers. People suffering from heart diseases and congenital heart problems, often have blue hands, fingers, nails or lips.
  • Respiratory Tract Disease – Blue hands and fingers could mean an underlying respiratory problem. One of the major organs in our body which is the lungs play a vital role in causing bluish discoloration of fingers and hands. If the air entering your lungs gets blocked or if the lungs are unable to send oxygen to the blood, then it can result in blue hands and fingers as in such conditions the blood has low levels of oxygen. Asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and pneumonia are some diseases where peripheral cyanosis is quite common, causing blue hands and fingers. Also, if the airway gets obstructed due to the presence of a foreign particle in it, it too can result in blue hands and fingers.
  • Raynaud's Disease – This is another disease which can cause blue hands and fingers as the blood vessels in these body parts get constricted all of a sudden. Getting exposed to too much cold and taking too much stress are the main triggers in this disease. It can commonly cause blue hands and fingers, however, it is temporary and as the blood flow resumes, the bluish discoloration also reduces.
  • Other Factors - There are other factors too which can cause blue hands and fingers in individuals. Extensive use of pharmaceutical medicines or illicit drugs can reduce the level of oxygen in your blood and breathing rate as well. If alcohol is also consumed along with such medicines or drugs, then the bluish discoloration increases even more. Hence, if not medical conditions, blue hands and fingers could mean excessive use of medicines or substance abuse.

Conclusion

No matter what the cause for blue hands and fingers is, it is imperative that you take such a problem seriously. Many a times, blue hands and fingers is followed by bluish discoloration of lips, low pressure of blood, alterations in the heart rate, cold skin and a confused state of mind; all of which denote that there is something seriously wrong with the patient and immediate medical attention is required.

Treating cyanosis at the earliest is the best way to prevent it from turning fatal in the future. It is necessary to seek medical opinion to get appropriate treatment and follow medical advice to prevent complications.

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Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD, FFARCSI

Last Modified On: August 28, 2017

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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