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    Paleness

    Skin - pale or gray; Pallor

    Paleness is an abnormal loss of color from normal skin or mucous membranes.

    Considerations

    Unless pale skin is accompanied by pale lips, tongue, palms of the hands, inside of the mouth, and lining of the eyes, it is probably not a serious condition, and does not require treatment.

    General paleness affects the entire body. It is most easily seen on the face, lining of the eyes, inner mouth, and nails. Local paleness usually affects a single limb.

    How easily paleness is diagnosed varies with skin color, and the thickness and amount of blood vessels in the tissue under the skin. Sometimes it is only a lightening of skin color. Paleness may be difficult to detect in a dark-skinned person -- and is detected only in the eye and mouth lining.

    Causes

    Paleness may be the result of decreased blood supply to the skin.It can also be due to decreased number of red blood cells (anemia). Paleness of the skin is not the same as loss of pigment from the skin. Paleness is related to blood flow in the skin rather than deposit of melanin in the skin.

    Paleness can be caused by:

    • Normal fair complexion
    • Lack of exposure to the sun (it is healthier to be pale than tanned)
    • Anemia (blood loss, poor nutrition, or underlying disease)
    • Shock
    • Fainting
    • Frostbite
    • Low blood sugar
    • Chronic diseases including infection and cancer

    When to Contact a Medical Professional

    Call yourhealth care provideror emergency number if a person suddenly develops generalized paleness. Emergency action may be needed to maintain proper blood circulation.

    Also call yourhealth care providerif paleness is accompanied by shortness of breath, blood in the stool, or other unexplained symptoms.

    What to Expect at Your Office Visit

    The health care provider will examine you and ask about your medical history and symptoms, including:

    • Did the paleness develop suddenly?
    • Did it happen after reminders of a traumatic event?
    • Are you pale all over or only in one part of the body? If so, where?
    • What other symptoms do you have? For example, do you have pain, shortness of breath, blood in the stool, or are you vomiting blood?
    • Do you have a pale arm, hand, leg or foot, and cannot feel a pulse in the area?

    Tests that may beordered include:

    • Extremity arteriography
    • CBC
    • Blood differential

    References

    High WA, Tomasini CF, Argenziano G, Zalaudek I. Basic principles of dermatology. In: Bolognia JL, Jorizzo JL, Schaffer JV, eds. Dermatology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 1.

    Goldman L. Approach to the patient with possible cardiovascular disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman’s Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 50.

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      Review Date: 4/14/2013

      Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.

      The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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