Purple Tongue: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Our tongue is nothing, but a muscle enclosed in mucosa, which is a pink tissue and with presence of papillae, which are tiny bumps on the surface of the tongue. There are about thousands of taste buds present on the papillae. Not many people know this, but the color of tongue can give a lot of insight into a person’s health.

What is a Purple Tongue & What Does It Indicate?

What is a Purple Tongue & What Does It Indicate?

There are many foods and drinks which can cause our tongue to change color. Other than this, certain medical conditions also cause purple tongue discoloration.

A purple tongue or a tongue, which has a bluish tinge to it can indicate problem with adrenal gland or some vitamin deficiency. A purple tongue can also be a medical emergency if it occurs as a result of insufficient oxygen in the blood.

What are the Causes of a Purple Tongue?

Purple Tongue Caused by Food & Beverages:

Staining from foods and beverages is the commonest cause of a purple tongue. Some of the food items, the consumption of which can cause a purple tongue include: blueberries, grape juice, beets, colored icing/frosting, purple or blue popsicles or colored candy.

Health issues, which can cause a purple tongue or a purplish or bluish stain on the tongue, are:

Purple Tongue Due to Blood Circulation Issues:

When the blood fails to deliver sufficient oxygen to the body, then it can also cause a purple or bluish tongue. The condition of bluish discoloration of the tongue or the purple tongue is termed as cyanosis. This bluish or purple tinge occurs in places other than just the tongue, if the cause is insufficient oxygen in the blood. If there is airway obstruction, which causes lack of oxygen, then it can also lead to purple or blue tongue.

This is a medical emergency and medical attention should be sought immediately if the purple tongue is accompanied by the following symptoms: chest pain, breathing difficulties, gasping for breath, dizziness or fainting.

Purple Tongue Caused by Vitamin B2 Deficiency:

Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) is a water-soluble vitamin. Vitamin B2 is richly found in dairy products, fish, meat and certain vegetables and fruits. Anemia also causes Vitamin B2 deficiency, which in turn causes purple tongue. There can also be swelling of the tongue along with purple discoloration of tongue in vitamin B2 deficiency.

Other than purplish tongue, other symptoms of a vitamin B2 deficiency consist of: mouth sores, fatigue, cracked lips, skin inflammation and changes in the mood.

Bacteria Causing Purple Tongue:

There are thousands of bacteria found on the tongue and in our mouth. Some of them are good bacteria, which are needed for good oral health.

But excessive presence of certain types of bacteria causes tongue discoloration, i.e. purple tongue. More commonly a white coating over the tongue is seen as a result of bacterial presence on the tongue.

To get rid of the excessive bacteria and purple tongue, one should gently brush the tongue with the help of tongue scraper or toothbrush to get rid of the white coating of the bacteria and also prevent bacteria and dead cells from accumulating on the tongue. Seek medical attention if you are also having pain in the tongue along with the purplish discoloration.

Adrenal Insufficiency Leading to Purple Tongue:

Addison’s disease or adrenal insufficiency is a condition that occurs when your adrenal glands don’t produce enough of certain hormones, including aldosterone or cortisol. Symptoms of Addison’s disease gradually develop, which can also include a purple tongue. Other than this, tongue can more commonly have brown spots on the tongue from Addison’s disease.

Other symptoms of Addison’s disease consist of: skin darkening, weight loss and intense fatigue.

Purple Tongue Caused by Varicose Veins:

Varicose veins of the tongue or sublingual varices are blue or purple in color and can be seen on the sides and underside of the tongue. Varicose veins of the tongue develop as a person ages and become more prominent with age. Varicose veins of the tongue are quite commonly seen and are not a sign of any medical issue; however, varicose veins of the tongue may be associated with high blood pressure.

Purple Tongue Caused by Tumors:

Hemangioma is a rare, benign tumor of dilated blood vessels occurring in the oral cavity and tongue. Hemangioma can cause a purple swelling on the tongue, which looks like a purple bump or elevated bruise on the tongue.

Medications Use

Medications like Pepto-Bismol which have bismuth in them can also cause the tongue to appear black or dark purple.

When to Seek Medical Attention for Purple Tongue?

If there is sudden purple or bluish discoloration of the tongue accompanied by symptoms such as: profuse sweating, chest pain, dizziness, breathing difficulties, choking, hypotension and loss of consciousness, then it is imperative to seek immediate medical attention.

What is the Treatment for Purple Tongue?

Treatment for purple tongue depends on its cause. If the purple tongue occurs due to Vitamin B2 deficiency, then rectifying it will get rid of the tongue discoloration.

If any food or beverages cause the purple discoloration of the tongue, then it will fade on its own in a matter of hours and is not a cause for concern.

If the purple tongue is caused by bacteria, then cleaning your tongue and maintaining oral hygiene will solve the problem of purple tongue.

If medical conditions, such as Hemangioma, Addison’s disease and even varicose veins are responsible for purple tongue, then treating these conditions will resolve the purple tongue.

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:March 7, 2019

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