Cyanosis is a condition and not a disease. The skin color of the fingertips and the lips becomes light bluish in color during cyanosis. This is indicative of the low oxygen levels in the blood. Blood takes a bluish tint if it does not have sufficient levels of oxygen. Blood under normal condition is bright red in color owing to the protein molecules called hemes. However when the oxygen levels in the RBC reduce it can cause bluish coloration on the limbs and lips. This condition is known as cyanosis. Cyanosis is a symptom indicating the body cannot deliver sufficient levels of oxygenated blood.
Very cold weather can narrow the blood vessels reducing the oxygen supply causing bluish tint temporarily. But that is not cyanosis and can be resolved by gentle massaging of affected areas.
Cyanosis is of two type namely central cyanosis and peripheral cyanosis.
Central cyanosis is caused by internal factors like abnormally low levels of Hb and any specific diseases in the heart or lungs. Peripheral cyanosis occurs due to decrease in the level of oxygen in the blood which is supplied to the peripheral tissues. This can occur due to varying temperatures also temporarily.
Lowered oxygen level in the blood is the major cause for cyanosis. Some diseases like congestive heart failure, sepsis shock, narrowing of blood vessels, pneumonia, and carbon monoxide poisoning, peripheral vascular disease, exposure to cold temperature, pulmonary embolism, COPD and high respiratory tract infections can cause cyanosis. Lung diseases and infection, cardiac shunt, polycythemia vera, and Beta blocking drugs can also trigger cyanosis in adults.
Blue coloration of the lips and fingertips are the major signs of cyanosis. However there can be accompanied symptoms if there is underlying cause. Patients with lungs and heart diseases can develop cyanosis gradually. Similarly people who are taking drugs that contain nitrates and dapsone can develop cyanosis over years. Other symptoms related to cyanosis include rapid heartbeat, palpitation, chest pain (ranging from dull to severe chest tightening), dyspnea and blue discoloration of the skin on the extremities.
Based on the symptoms of blue discoloration of nails and lips, the doctor would first complete physical examination. He would measure the carbon dioxide levels and oxygen levels in the blood using noninvasive pulse oximeter. Chest X-ray, ECG or echo test and hemoglobin levels and arterial blood gas test may also be done.
Emergency treatment is to be given if the patient condition is not stable. Oxygen therapy is started immediately to restore the oxygen levels in blood. Treatment for cyanosis involves finding the underlying factors or disease causing it. Lungs and heart problems should be addressed and promptly treated.
Majority of the cases of peripheral cyanosis would recover shortly. If the patient develops cyanosis due to progressing internal diseases death can occur.