Paleness is an abnormal loss of color from normal skin or mucous membranes.
Skin - pale or gray; Pallor
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. It 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 lightening of skin color. Paleness may be difficult to detect in a dark-skinned person, and is detected only in the eye and mouth lining.
Paleness may be the result of decreased blood supply to the skin. It can also be due to decreased number of red blood cells (anemia). Paleness of the skin is not the same as loss of pigment from the skin. Paleness is related to blood flow in the skin rather than deposit of melanin in the skin.
Paleness can be caused by:
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider or emergency number if a person suddenly develops generalized paleness. Emergency action may be needed to maintain proper blood circulation.
Also call your provider if paleness is accompanied by shortness of breath, blood in the stool, or other unexplained symptoms.
What to Expect at Your Office Visit
Your provider will examine you and ask about your medical history and symptoms, including:
Tests that may be ordered include:
Treatment will depend on the cause of paleness.
Schwarzenberger K, Callen JP. Dermatologic manifestations in patients with systemic disease. In: Bolognia JL, Schaffer JV, Cerroni L, eds. Dermatology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 53.
Seller RH, Symons AB. Skin problems. In: Seller RH, Symons AB, eds. Differential Diagnosis of Common Complaints. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 29.
Review Date: 4/16/2019
Reviewed By: Michael Lehrer, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Dermatology, University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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