What’s Causing My Blue Hands and Feet?

Wondering why your hands or feet are turned bluish in colour? Peripheral cyanosis is a condition in which the extremities usually the hands, feet, fingers, and/or toes develop a distinctive bluish discoloration because they are not receiving enough oxygen rich blood. There are a number of things that can cause this to happen. And some causes are more serious than others. Therefore it is important to seek medical attention if you notice any signs of peripheral cyanosis.

Oxygen rich blood is a bright red while oxygen poor blood is dark red.  When there is reduced blood circulation to the extremities, the tissues get starved of oxygen. This reflects as a bluish green color through the skin. Peripheral cyanosis affects both adults and children. So it’s good to always observe your children’s hands and feet for any bluish discolouration.  



Signs and Symptoms 

Adults and children may experience accompanying signs or symptoms. Peripheral cyanosis can be a life threatening emergency. Anyone experiencing blue discoloration with the following symptoms should seek immediate medical attention.

  • Skin on the fingertips, toes, palms of the hands and/or feet to appear blue-green.
  • Bluish areas that feel cold to touch.
  • Returned color after the body part is warmed.
  • Gasping for air, shortness of breath and/or other breathing issues.
  • Fever.
  • Headache.
  • Chest pain.
  • Excessive sweating.
  • Pain or numbness in the arms, legs, hands, feet, fingers or toes.
  • White or pale appearance of the arms, legs, hands, feet, fingers or toes. This symptom is a sign of obstructed blood flow.
  • Dizziness or fainting.

What Causes Peripheral Cyanosis?

Blue hands or feet can be a sign that there is a problem with your body’s system of delivering oxygen-rich blood to the tissues of your hands and feet. Your body’s circulatory system is responsible for transporting oxygen to your body tissues. Oxygen-rich blood from your lungs enter into your heart and are pumped out through your arteries to the tissues all over the body. These tissues then make use of the oxygen and leave an oxygen-depleted blood. This has to be transported back through your veins to your heart and lungs to be oxygenated again and redistributed.

Anything that prevents blood from returning to your heart through your veins, or that stops it from reaching your tissues in the first place, means that your tissues will not get the oxygen rich blood they need. Hence, the peripheral cyanosis.

Very cold temperature is the most frequent cause of blue hands or feet. Although it is also possible to have blue hands or feet even though they’re warm. The causes of peripheral cyanosis can include:

  • Wearing too tight clothing or jewelry.
  • Abnormal Hemoglobins.
  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
  • Venous insufficiency, caused by conditions that slow blood flow through your veins.
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon.
  • Epiglottitis.
  • High Altitude.
  • Hyaline Membrane Disease.
  • Lymphedema.
  • Drug overdose.
  • Cyanide Poisoning.
  • Diseases of the Heart Valves.
  • Heart failure.
  • Tetralogy of Fallot.
  • Near Drowning.
  • Arterial insufficiency, caused by conditions that slow blood flow through your arteries.
  • Severe hypotension, or extremely low blood pressure, which may be caused by conditions such as septic shock.
  • Hypovolemia, in which less blood circulates through your body than normal.

There are situations whereby a mother can increase the risk of certain cyanotic heart disease in the infant. Such situations include:

Complications of peripheral cyanosis

Peripheral cyanosis is a serious condition. Anyone whose hands and feet don’t restore to normal color and blood flow after warming or massaging may have an underlying condition and should seek medical attention. Possible complications of cyanotic heart disease include:



  • Bernstein D. Cyanotic congenital heart disease: evaluation of the critically ill neonate with cyanosis and respiratory distress. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. Geme JW, Schor NF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 429
  • Webb GD, Smallhorn JF, Therrien J, Redington AN. Congenital heart disease. In: Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, Bonow RO, Braunwald E, eds. Braunwald’s Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 62.
  • Healthline.com – Peripheral cyanosis 
  • Verywellhealth – Peripheral cyanosis


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