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Pallor, also referred to as skin paleness, is an abnormal brightening of the skin and mucous membrane due to reduced blood flow or low amount of oxyhaemoglobin. It can appear in one particular area or affect entire body as well. This kind of symptom should not be underestimated, especially if it occurs suddenly or can be seen in multiple parts of the body. Skin paleness is associated mainly with anemia, which can appear as a result of malnutrition or recent loss of large amounts of blood. Nevertheless, certain individuals tend to have pale skin naturally without any underlying cause, which is not considered as a pathological state.
Possible causes of pale skin
Pallor may occur as a consequence of numerous disorders, and probably the most common one is anemia. Anemia is a state, which is defined by decreased production of red blood cells. This type of disease can develop due to malnutrition, recent loss of large amount of blood or as a result of an underlying malfunction. It may appear suddenly or progress slowly without any specific symptoms nor signs. Sudden onset of anemia is caused mainly by serious malfunctions or factors, such as blood loss due to major trauma, recent surgery or by bleeding within the gastrointestinal tract. On the other hand, slowly progressing (chronic) anemia usually develops as a consequence of poor nutrition. For instance lack of folic acid, iron or vitamin B12 may trigger the disease.
In addition, pallor may also appear due to obstruction of limb artery and further results in pain and feeling cold of that one particular limb. In extreme cases, the consequence of untreated artery blockage might be a gangrene. It is a form of cell injury called necrosis, which may require limb amputation in order to save patient’s life.
Other possible causes of skin paleness include:
- Frostbite or prolonged exposure to cold
- Emotional shock or stress
- Circulatory system disorders
- Certain types of cancer
- Hypoglycemia, simply known as low blood sugar
- Common cold
This type of ailment may indicate several disorders, including those dangerous ones. That is why diagnosis may consist numerous test, which are done in order to confirm the exact cause. Complete blood count (CBC) and measuring the levels of folic acid, iron and vitamin B12 are performed initially, since it will reveal anemia. Arteriography, an imaging technique suitable for visualizing blood vessels, may also be done, because it may point out the artery blockage.
Other examinations include e.g.:
- Abdominal imaging – performed in order to look for abnormalities, which might cause internal bleeding.
- Stool examination – possible presence of blood.
- Thyroid examination – thyroid hormones insufficiency may cause anemia.
If the pallor is caused by anemia, usual treatment include balancing a diet or using supplements in order to restore proper amounts of folic acid, iron and vitamin B12. Occasionally, blood transfusion is needed, however it is performed only if hemoglobin levels are dangerously low. In case of limb artery blockage, surgery may become the best possible option. Other treatment methods are selected according to an underlying disease and may vary greatly. They include for instance chemotherapy, which is suitable for cancer, or carbohydrates intake for low blood sugar.
When to see a doctor
Although pallor is not a dangerous condition, sometimes it can be more serious, especially if caused by a serious underlying disorder. Sudden generalized pallor, which can be seen on entire human body, is an emergency state which usually requires immediate intervention, in order to restore proper blood circulation.
Professional healthcare is highly recommended, if skin paleness is accompanied by one or more of those symptoms:
- Breathing difficulties
- Blood in stool or vomiting with blood
- Abdominal pain