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What to Know About Pallor and Your Health

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on June 03, 2021

Pallor comes from the Latin word "palleo," which means to look pale or fade. Pallor is a condition in which a person’s skin and mucous membranes turn lighter than they usually are. Mucous membranes are the moist lining that covers and protects the organs inside your body and the body cavities exposed to the air, like the inside of your nose, ears, and mouth. ‌

The paleness of the skin may be seen all over the body or just in one area. Pallor is not the same as a condition called albinism, which is when your body produces little or no pigment (color) at all in your eyes, hair, and skin.

Pallor is treated as a serious condition if it is seen on:

  • The lips
  • The lining of the eyes
  • ‌The palms of your hands
  • ‌The inside of your mouth
  • The surface of the tongue

Conditions That Cause Pallor

‌Pallor is most commonly linked to anemia. But it can also be caused by any of the following conditions:

  • Aplastic anemia
  • Other types of anemia like autoimmune hemolytic anemia, Diamond–Blackfan anemia, and Fanconi anemia
  • ‌Anorexia, an eating disorder in which someone becomes obsessed with how much they weigh and what they eat
  • ‌‌Arterial occlusion 
  • ‌Chemical poisoning
  • ‌Cancer
  • ‌Deficiency in folic acid or vitamin B12
  • ‌Disseminated intravascular coagulation, a rare but serious condition in which small blood clots develop throughout the body, causing blockages for small blood vessels 
  • Drop in blood sugar
  • ‌Excessive bleeding
  • Exposure to cold or frostbite, a condition in which the skin and tissues just under the skin become frozen
  • ‌‌Fainting
  • ‌Fear or panic 
  • ‌Infections
  • ‌Kidney problems
  • Lack of sleep
  • ‌Lack of sun exposure
  • ‌Malnutrition
  • ‌Medicines
  • Motion sickness
  • ‌Problems with blood circulation
  • ‌Respiratory problems or shortness of breath
  • ‌Severe trauma
  • ‌Shock
  • ‌Tuberculosis, a contagious infection that mainly affects the lungs
  • ‌Thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, a condition where clotting forms in small blood vessels throughout the body causing a low platelet count 
  • ‌‌Transient erythroblastopenia (slow-developing anemia) of childhood

Diagnosis

‌Your doctor will conduct a complete examination, review your medical history, and run tests to find out why you have pale skin. Some of the tests that are usually performed include:

  • Complete blood count (CBC): This blood test is used to find out if you have anemia, infections, or other health conditions. The test may also be used to monitor how your blood is reacting to medicines or treatments.
  • ‌Differential blood count: This test measures the percentage of each type of white blood cell in your body and looks for abnormal white cell populations. 
  • Abdominal x-ray, ultrasound, or CT scan: Safe and painless tests that produce images of your abdominal organs. The tests vary depending on how detailed the images need to be.
  • Colonoscopy: This test is done to find out if there are abnormalities in the colon (large intestine) or rectum.
  • Kidney function tests: These tests check for the amount of waste products like urine and creatinine in the body. Doctors use these tests to find out if your kidneys are working properly.
  • Reticulocyte count test: This test checks for the amount of new red blood cells and is used to find out if you have any conditions that could be affecting your blood. 
  • Stool culture: This test looks for bacteria, viruses, or other germs that could be causing your condition. 
  • Serum pregnancy test: This test helps the doctor find out if the patient is pregnant. Pregnancy can be a common cause of anemia that shows up as pallor. 
  • Thyroid function tests: These tests check for the levels of thyroid hormone in your body. A thyroid that isn’t working well can cause anemia.
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiency tests: These tests look for deficiencies in vitamins or minerals that may be causing anemia or pallor.
  • Extremity arteriography. This test helps the doctor find out if you have a blocked or narrowed blood vessel in your extremities (your arms, feet, legs, and hands).   

Treatment of Pallor

‌The treatment for pallor can vary from person to person based on the medical condition that is causing it. For iron deficiency anemia, your doctor may recommend iron supplements. Sometimes more tests or additional treatments are needed if your doctor suspects that there is bleeding on the inside.  It is recommended to follow a healthy diet with iron- and vitamin c-rich foods to prevent iron deficiency anemia.

Long-Term Outlook

‌Since pallor can be caused by any of several different conditions, having the correct diagnosis is important. The long-term outlook depends on the medical condition, the severity, how quickly you get treatment, and the treatment options available. ‌Most cases of pallor can be managed successfully if you get medical help without delay. 

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic:  "Albinism," "Chronic kidney disease," "Colonoscopy," "Iron deficiency anemia." 

MedicineNet: "Pale Skin: Symptoms & Signs," "What Is Pallor a Sign Of?" 

Medscape: "Differential Blood Count." 

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