Cyanosis: Types, Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

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Cyanosis is the condition where the skin turns to a blue or purple hue.The red blood cells bring oxygen to the different body tissues and in return, take up the carbon dioxide and other wastes to be expelled from the body.  It usually begins in the lips, tongue or fingernails, and most visible in the same areas.  It is usually indicative of decreased oxygen in the bloodstream. It may denote an underlying lung illness but it may also connote of a heart or major blood vessel defect.

When oxygen levels drop by only a small amount, cyanosis may be hard to detect, especially in dark-skinned people. For dark-skinned people, it may be easier to detect cyanosis in the lips, gums, around the eyes and other mucus membranes.

Cyanosis Types

There are two types of cyanosis, differentiated according to their different affected area.

  • Central cyanosis
    • Cyanosis on the central parts of the body, such as the head, torso, lips and mouth
    • Decreased oxygen in blood
    • Due to cardiac, respiratory or blood illnesses
    • May also be accompanies by acrocyanosis
    • Acrocyanosis
      • Cyanosis in the extremities, specifically the fingertips, palms of the hand and the soles of the feet
      • Often normal in babies, if not supplemented by central cyanosis

Cyanosis Causes

Certain problems can arise to cyanosis. These include:

  • Only one part of the body
    • Blood clots that block blood supply to limbs
    • Raynaud’s Phenomenon
    • Heart problems
      • Congenital heart defects
      • Heart failure
      • Cardiac arrest
      • Lung problems
        • Pulmonary embolism
        • Bronchiolitis
        • Asthma
        • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
        • Drowning or near drowning
        • Severe pneumonia
        • High altitudes
        • Airways leading to lungs problems
          • Holding of breath
          • Choking
          • Long-lasting seizures
          • Croup
          • Epiglottis
          • Others
            • Drug overdose
            • Ingestion of toxins
            • Exposure to cold air or water

Cyanosis Symptoms

Depending on the underlying cause, cyanosis may develop abruptly, Cyanosisalong with other associated symptoms, which will be enumerated. Aside from the bluish hue of the different parts of the skin, some symptoms include:

  • Fainting
  • Lethargy
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble breathing
  • Thickening of tissues beneath the nails
  • The following serious symptoms may denote a serious condition
    • Difficulty breathing
    • Chest pain or angina
    • Loss of consciousness

Cyanosis Treatment

As is with every common symptom, cyanosis is treated according to its underlying cause. Some of the treatments for cyanosis are the following:

  • Oxygen therapy
  • Warming of affected areas
  • Surgery
  • Intravenous (IV) fluids
  • Drug treatment

As a symptom, cyanosis can denote serious life-threatening conditions which have to be treated immediately. Understanding cyanosis can help when taking first aid courses, especially in topics related to respiratory or blood flow conditions.

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