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Paleness

Definition

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

Alternative Names

Skin - pale or gray; Pallor

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, and 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 subtle lightening of skin color. Paleness may be very difficult to detect in a dark-skinned person -- sometimes it is apparent only in the eye and mouth lining.

Paleness may be the result of decreased blood supply to the skin (cold, fainting, shock, hypoglycemia) or decreased number of red blood cells (anemia). Paleness of the skin is separate from the loss of pigment from the skin. Paleness is related to blood flow in the skin rather than deposit of melanin in the skin.

Common Causes

  • 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
  • Frostbite
  • Chronic diseases including infection and cancer

Call your health care provider if

Call your doctor or emergency number if a person suddenly develops generalized paleness. Emergency action may be needed to maintain proper blood circulation.

Also call your doctor if paleness is accompanied by shortness of breath, blood in the stool, or other unexplained symptoms.

What to expect at your health care provider's office

The doctor will examine you and ask questions 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 be done include:


Review Date: 5/13/2011
Reviewed By: Kevin Berman, MD, PhD, Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.  Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. 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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