What Causes Blue Lips?

Jae Jones

The condition of having blue lips is also known by the medical term cyanosis. It appears in tissue around the skin where the oxygen level is low. The condition is seen in people who have high hemoglobin levels. Depending on the pigment of a person’s skin, blue lips might be difficult to detect. Some medical conditions, such as chronic heart problems, will cause a person to have bluish lips. Extreme cold conditions and choking can also cause blue lips as well.

Blue lips may occur at high altitudes, where the oxygen is thinner.
Blue lips may occur at high altitudes, where the oxygen is thinner.

Chronic heart problems are caused by the inability of the heart to pump an efficient amount of blood throughout the body. People who are in heart failure experience symptoms such as coughing, blue lips, leg swelling and shortness of breath. At the first sign of the lips turning blue, one should seek medical help immediately. Chronic heart failure is dangerous and can be fatal. Treatment consist of a healthy lifestyle plan, a decrease in salt intake and stopping smoking, if applicable.

A below-normal body temperature often causes blue lips and shivering.
A below-normal body temperature often causes blue lips and shivering.

Extreme cold conditions or hypothermia are other causes of blue lips. People who travel to places that are at high altitudes run the risk of experiencing extreme cold and enduring hypothermia. If a person's body temperature falls well below normal body temperatures, his or her body could go into shock. A body temperature of less than 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) can cause shivering, disorientation and blue lips because of low oxygen levels. The person's body temperature should be brought back to normal as quickly as possible.

Choking stops normal breathing and causes a person’s oxygen level to drop. During this time, there is not enough air flowing into the lungs. When the person stops breathing from obstruction, the lips and other tissue in the face will turn blue. Immediate medical attention is needed to restore oxygen to the person.

People who have experienced having blue lips know that it can be a frightening ordeal. It is important for one to know his or her health history and follow a healthcare professional's orders when dealing with any condition that reduces the body's oxygen level. Knowing some of the causes of blue lips can help individuals recognize a life-threatening situation and seek the appropriate help.

Choking stops normal breathing and could eventually lead to blue lips.
Choking stops normal breathing and could eventually lead to blue lips.

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Discussion Comments


@browncoat - That can happen in younger people as well. A friend of mine who was only in her 40s ended up needing a pacemaker because her heart was damaged (they think it was by a virus, but still don't know for sure). Her only symptoms at first were getting really out of breath when she tried to walk fast, or up a hill. If her husband hadn't noticed that she also got a bluish tint to her lips when she complained about this, they might have brushed it off as just getting older.


@Fa5t3r - It's good that your mother has had herself checked out, but I wouldn't ever dismiss bluish lips because they are a chronic condition without being checked out. If you have a long term condition they might just constantly look like that because you're constantly needing more oxygen.

And, honestly, the biggest problem for people with conditions like this is that they take their health for granted and assume that little signs of trouble are nothing to complain about.

The other thing is that people won't necessarily know that they have blue lips, so if you notice, you should tell them. They might just think that they get tired sometimes, but it's actually a problem with their breathing or heart that could get worse without treatment.


Sometimes people seem to just have naturally bluish lips. My mother always seems to have them and it can be quite disconcerting when I see her without lipstick on. But they just got that way over time as she grew older and it doesn't seem to be anything to do with her heart or blood pressure, since she gets them checked all the time.

If it happens suddenly, then it's definitely something that you should panic about, but if it's just a normal state for someone it's probably not a big deal.

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