Why Are My Lips Blue?

Medically Reviewed By Megan Soliman, MD
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Blue lips are generally due to either a lack of oxygen in the blood or extremely cold temperatures. When the skin becomes a bluish color, the symptom is called cyanosis. Blue lips can result from a lack of oxygen in the blood. This may happen when you are at a high altitude or if you are choking. Alternatively, a lack of oxygen may be due to a chronic underlying condition, such as a lung disease or chronic heart defect.

Sudden blue lips are a serious symptom that may indicate a serious or life threatening underlying condition. If you or someone you are with has blue lips with other serious symptoms — such as difficulty breathing, chest painfatigue, fainting, or a change in the level of consciousness — seek immediate medical care.

Read on to learn more about blue lips and what could cause them. This article also covers what to do if you notice blue lips on yourself or someone else.

Lung problems that can cause blue lips

a woman is in a snowy field wearing a hood
Karyna Bartashevich/Stocksy United

Lung problems that may cause blue lips include:

Visit our lungs, breathing, and respiration hub here.

Pulmonary arterial hypertension

Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) is a condition that affects the heart and lungs. It can be fatal, and it may be difficult to diagnose. Its symptoms can be similar to those of asthma or COPD.

People with PAH have thickened, constricted pulmonary arteries. This makes it more difficult for the body to move blood between the heart and lungs, making the heart work much harder than it should.

Other symptoms of PAH include:

Learn about the types of pulmonary hypertension here.

Heart problems that can cause blue lips

Heart problems that may cause blue lips include:

Visit our heart health hub here.

Airway problems that can cause blue lips

Airway problems that may cause blue lips include:

Learn about asphyxiation here.

Blood problems that can cause blue lips

Problems with the blood that may cause blue lips include:

  • abnormal hemoglobin, wherein the blood cannot absorb enough oxygen
  • polycythemia, wherein there is a high concentration of red blood cells

One 2020 case study mentioned a female with blue lips and shortness of breath who presented to the emergency room. They received a diagnosis of methemoglobinemia. This occurs when there is too much of a cell called hemoglobin in the blood that cannot carry oxygen.

Symptoms of methemoglobinemia include:

  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • fatigue
  • shortness of breath
  • nausea and vomiting
  • a fast heartbeat
  • a loss of muscle coordination

Learn about blood disorders here.

Other causes of blue lips

Other conditions and circumstances that can cause blue lips include:

  • exposure to cold air or water
  • high altitudes
  • seizures

Blue lips as an emergency symptom

Blue lips can be a symptom of a low blood oxygen level. This warrants prompt evaluation in an emergency setting.

If you have blue lips with other serious symptoms, seek immediate medical attention by calling 911. These other symptoms could include:

What other symptoms might occur with blue lips?

Blue lips are generally due to a lack of oxygen in the blood. Often, this can be caused by an underlying condition that may cause other symptoms.

Symptoms that may occur alongside blue lips

Blue lips may accompany other symptoms of underlying conditions or events that lead to a lack of oxygen in the blood. These symptoms may include:

  • bluish discoloration of the fingers and toes
  • confusion or disorientation
  • fainting, a change in the level of consciousness, or lethargy
  • fatigue
  • nausea or vomiting
  • rapid breathing or shortness of breath
  • thickening of the tissues beneath the nails

When to contact a doctor

In some cases, blue lips may be a symptom of a life threatening condition that requires immediate evaluation in an emergency setting. 

Seek immediate medical care if you or someone you are with has any of these life threatening symptoms:

If you feel concerned about having blue lips but are not experiencing any other symptoms, you can seek care from a clinician.

Questions for diagnosis

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed healthcare practitioner will ask you several questions related to your blue lips, including:

  • When did you first notice your blue lips?
  • Was the onset of your blue lips sudden?
  • Are you having difficulty breathing?
  • Have you been at a high altitude?
  • Have you been exposed to very cold temperatures?
  • Are you experiencing any other symptoms?
  • Are you taking any medications?
  • Do you have any other medical conditions?

What are the potential complications of blue lips?

Blue lips can indicate a serious underlying condition or disease. Prompt evaluation by a medical professional can help identify the cause of your blue lips.

Once they have identified the underlying condition or disease, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your healthcare professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications. These may include:

Treatment for blue lips

The appropriate form of treatment for blue lips will depend on what has caused them. For example, if your blue lips are the result of cold water or air or high altitudes, the issue will resolve itself once the cause is removed.

However, blue lips could be due to a more serious problem involving the heart, lungs, or blood. In these cases, it is very important to seek medical care to find the right treatment as soon as possible.

Summary

Blue lips result from something affecting the amount of oxygen in the blood. This could be environmental, such as exposure to cold air or water and high altitudes, or it could be the result of an underlying health condition.

Such conditions may involve the heart, lungs, or blood. If you notice blue lips on you or anyone else, it is important to seek medical care. You should seek emergency medical care if the blue lips come on suddenly or happen alongside other symptoms, such as chest pain or shortness of breath.

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Medical Reviewer: Megan Soliman, MD
Last Review Date: 2022 Mar 30
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.