Purple Lips Causes

Rather than being a condition in itself, purple lips could be a symptom of something severe in the body. We discuss here the various causes of purple lips.
HealthHearty Staff
Last Updated: Mar 12, 2018
Purple lips, also known as cyanosis in medical terminology, is caused by the discoloration of the skin and membranes. The area that is affected by cyanosis appears to be bluish in color. Though purple lips can be caused due to cold weather, it can also be a cause for concern, as it may be a symptom of underlying diseases related to the heart and respiratory system.
What May Cause the Lips to Appear Purple?
The main symptom of cyanosis that can be noticed is, the discoloration or bluish appearance of the lips, nails, tongue and veins, etc. Though in many cases, cyanosis may be linked to certain serious diseases that may require immediate attention.
Mild Causes
  • Cold weather can be one of the causes. In cold weather, when the body temperature drops, it inhibits the proper flow of blood to certain parts of the body causing them to turn blue due to lack of oxygen. Sometimes a sensation of burning lips may also be experienced, as a result of extremely cold weather.
  • People living in high altitude regions may also notice a bluish tinge on the lips. This is due to the fact that in high altitude, the levels of oxygen are less, in comparison to lowlands. Insufficient oxygen in the blood can result in discoloration of not only the lips, but also other parts like fingertips, nails, toes, etc.
Severe Causes
  • Congenital heart defects like malformed arteries veins and heart valves are responsible for discoloration of the lips. These defective structures tend to hamper proper blood circulation, resulting in this condition.
  • Blood clot in the lungs, also known as pulmonary embolism that may lead to blockage of the main artery of the lungs is another cause for cyanosis. Pulmonary embolism may also cause difficulty in breathing and chest pain.
  • High blood pressure in the lungs, which is referred to as pulmonary hypertension, can lead to low blood-oxygen level, which turns the color of the lips to blue or purple.
  • Abnormal levels of hemoglobin in the blood as in the case of anemia where the red blood cells count is lower than the normal level or when the hemoglobin is high in persons living in high altitude places, can be a cause for cyanosis.
  • Heart failure and heart valve diseases caused due to high cholesterol or blood pressure is another cause of purple or bluish lips.
  • When the blood flow is obstructed due to myocardial infarction (MI) or acute myocardial infarction (AMI) which is commonly known as heart attack in layman's language, the person affected may show symptoms like chest pain, breathlessness and purple lips.
  • Raynaud's disease or phenomenon is a condition where the blood vessels narrow, restricting blood circulation. Spasms in the arteries can also make the skin numb. The region which has inadequate blood supply can turn blue due to the deficiency of oxygen.
  • Some other causes of discolored lips are smoking, alcoholism, chronic bronchitis, asthma, hypoventilation, croup (viral illness), life-threatening inflammation and swelling of the epiglottis, etc. A disorder, called methemoglobinemia, where the hemoglobin appears abnormal due to the presence of toxins in the body is also known to induce bluish coloring of the lips.
Treating Lip Discoloration
Once you know the cause of purple lips, treating this condition will be relatively easy. Given below are some methods of treating this lip condition,
  • If cyanosis is caused due to cold weather, then the proper method to bring back the color to normal is by avoiding over exposure to cold and warming the body. You can also wear warm clothes before going out in the cold.
  • Cyanosis caused due congenital heart defects can be corrected by surgery.
  • If purple or bluish lips are caused due to lung cancer, the person may have to undergo chemotherapy in order to get rid of the carcinogenic cells.
  • Anti coagulants may be used for thinning the blood, in case of pulmonary embolism.
  • Keep the body well hydrated, eat a well-balanced meal and follow a proper exercise regimen in order to avoid the condition of purple lips and other diseases related to it.
Change in lip color may be an indication of underlying medical conditions, some of which may require prompt medical attention. So, if you notice discoloration of lips or cyanosis, which is not due to cold weather, visit your doctor to get the cause diagnosed immediately. Take care!
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.