Formula Medical Group
Apple Valley, CA
760-242-1234


James Krider, MD


   any search words
   all search words

 
Pallor

Skin color is a highly variable trait; some people have ruddy complexions, others are very fair, and others have olive-toned or dark skin. Whatever a person's race or skin type, however, many illnesses — especially those affecting the level of oxygen in the blood — can alter skin tone. In white people, the result is pallor; in people of African descent and other dark-skinned people, the result is a gray or ashen appearance. Even minor illnesses can produce some degree of pallor. When pallor is the result of a serious health problem, however, not only the skin, but also the inner part of the lower eyelids, the lips, the inside of the mouth, and the nail beds lack color.

Causes of pallor

Anemia
Each of the various types of anemia has a different cause, but in general, all are manifested as a deficiency in red blood cells or hemoglobin— the oxygen-carrying component of red blood cells. Pallor is a classic symptom of anemia, along with weakness, shortness of breath, fatigue, and palpitations. Severe cases of some types of anemia can be serious or even life threatening.

Angina pectoris
Episodes of this condition are usually brought on by exertion, stress, or a heavy meal in a person whose coronary arteries are narrowed by a buildup of fatty plaque. The outstanding symptom is pain or pressure in the center of the chest, behind the breastbone. The pain usually feels like squeezing or gripping, typically lasts only a few minutes, and may be accompanied by nausea. Other common symptoms include shortness of breath, palpitations, dizziness, pallor, anxiety, and a cold sweat.

Endocarditis
Endocarditis, a bacterial infection of the lining of the heart, is most likely to occur in people who have damaged heart valves, rheumatic fever, or congenital heart disease. If the infection persists, potentially fatal complications may develop. Among the symptoms are intermittent chills and fever, joint pain, anemia with characteristic pallor, fatigue, and loss of appetite.

Heart attack
A heart attack, or myocardial infarction, involves the death of heart-muscle cells from reduced or obstructed blood flow through the coronary arteries. Chest pain is the most important symptom, often described as a crushing or constricted feeling in the chest.

Pale skin, pallor, can be a result of many disorders, primarily those that depreive the blood of oxygen.

Pale skin, pallor, can be a result of many disorders, primarily those that deprive the blood of oxygen.

The pain may radiate from the chest over the breastbone to the jaw, neck, either arm, or the area between the shoulder blades. The other important symptom is shortness of breath. Additional frequent signs and symptoms are pallor, cold sweat, fear, rapid pulse rate, and palpitations.

Heart rhythm disorders
Disturbances in the way the heart beats can range from harmless to deadly. A rapid heartbeat (tachycardia) or an irregular, fluttering heartbeat (fibrillation) may indicate a serious problem. A person with one of these conditions typically appears pale and weak, and may also experience nausea, fainting, and shock.

Leukemia
There are several types of leukemia, but all are characterized by the proliferation of abnormal blood cells. Leukemia is the most common childhood cancer. Symptoms include pallor, weight loss, fatigue, easy bruising, swollen lymph nodes, and bleeding problems. Overall, a third to half of all leukemia can now be cured, but early diagnosis and treatment are crucial.

Peptic ulcers
A peptic ulcer is a raw spot that develops in the lining of the stomach or duodenum. Steady, rather than intermittent, abdominal pain is the most common symptom. Hemorrhage is a potential complication, and is considered a medical emergency since there is a risk of bleeding to death. A severe hemorrhage is marked by weakness, sweating, and blood — which may appear black and grainy — in both vomit and stools. A sharp drop in blood pressure may occur, leading to physical collapse. During such an episode, the person is pale and restless.

Rheumatic heart disease
In this condition, the heart valves are damaged by a disease process that begins with a strep throat or some other streptococcal infection. If untreated, the infection can develop into acute rheumatic fever, an inflammatory disease affecting the body's connective tissues, including those of the heart. Rheumatic heart disease is most common in children 5 to 15 years old. A child with rheumatic fever may have a high fever, sore joints, shortness of breath, and chest pains. Other symptoms are extreme paleness, fatigue, and poor appetite.

Shock
Shock occurs when the blood pressure becomes too low for the body to maintain its vital functions. It can be caused by sudden loss of blood due to an injury, a bleeding peptic ulcer, or a ruptured ectopic pregnancy. It can also result from fluid loss due to severe burns, from an impairment of the heart's pumping function, from blood poisoning, from severe allergic reactions, or from complications of endocrine diseases such as diabetes. The skin becomes pale, moist, and sweaty; hands and feet are cold; the pulse is fast and weak; and blood pressure may be so low that it cannot be measured by normal means. Victims of shock become disoriented, confused, and anxious, experiencing feelings of impending doom. Prompt treatment is essential to prevent organ damage and death.

Advice about pallor

  • Pallor by itself rarely indicates a serious disorder. A person should be concerned, however, if it is accompanied by other symptoms, such as chest pain, fatigue, and shortness of breath.
  • If the skin has lost its color and the insides of the eyelids and mouth are no longer pink, a doctor should be seen at once.
This article was last reviewed November 12, 2005 by Dr. James Krider.
Reproduced in part with permission of Home Health Handbook.
Anemia
Angina pectoris
Angina, unstable
Endocarditis
Heart attack
Heart rhythm disorder
Leukemias
Peptic ulcers
Rheumatic heart disease
Shock


Return to Symptoms