Cyanosis is a condition which manifests when the blood is poorly oxygenated. In cyanotic people, the lack of oxygen in the blood causes the body to acquire a bluish tinge. There are several different types of this condition, and as a general rule, the condition indicates there is a serious medical problem which requires attention. If someone starts to turn blue, he or she should be taken to a doctor for evaluation and treatment.
In the simplest form of poor blood oxygenation, the nail beds appear slightly blue. Peripheral cyanosis also includes the extremities, such as the hands and feet. Central cyanosis, a very serious form, causes the lips and tongue to look blue. In someone with this condition, the blood is either circulating sluggishly and poorly, or the blood is not getting oxygenated enough. The decrease in oxygen can eventually cause tissue death.
Classically, this condition appears when someone is having difficulty breathing. People with respiratory illnesses like asthma and emphysema may be prone to developing bluish nail beds and extremities, and the condition is also common in people with heart failure and heart problems, because the malfunctioning heart is not able to pump the blood forcefully enough. People with heart problems may also experience edema or swelling of the limbs, along with clubbing of the fingers. Cold temperatures and smothering can also result in cyanosis.
In a condition known as acrocyanosis, the condition is chronic and persistent, and it tends to stay in the extremities. This condition may be malignant or benign, and patients who experience it should be evaluated to determine whether or not the acrocyanosis indicates a more serious problem. In patients with a benign form, the condition is primarily a cosmetic problem, since other people often express concern or distress when they note the bluish extremities of someone with acrocyanosis.
Newborns can also develop poor oxygenation, which can alarm parents. With very young children, the condition is usually caused by the thick, sluggish blood of newborn children. A slight disruption in blood flow can cause the momentary appearance of blue nails or skin, but the condition may resolve itself. If the condition is only present in one limb, it's a sign that the blood was restricted briefly by tight clothes or a bent joint. If an infant becomes cyanotic in more than one location or displays signs of distress or central cyanosis, it indicates a need for immediate medical attention.