Blue Baby Syndrome – Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Blue baby syndrome refers to what is medically known as methemogobin. Although it is a rare condition, it turns out that is a condition that is diagnosed in some infants born around the world and in particular babies born in rural areas.

Occurrence of Blue baby syndrome is associated with blood. The condition is indeed considered as a blood disorder. In normal circumstances, blood first flows into the right atrium of the heart before it finds its way to the right ventricle. It is from the right ventricle that the blood is then pumped to the lungs through pulmonary artery where it is oxygenated.

The oxygenated blood then flows into the left atrium through pulmonary vein. It is then pumped to the left ventricle, which in turn pumps the blood to the aorta from where the blood flows to other parts of the body. Oxygen contained in the blood that flows throughout the body gets used up and the blood flows back into the heart to be oxygenated again.
Failure in blood oxygenation simply means that blood from the aorta supplied to other parts of the body carries no oxygen, which leads to Blue baby syndrome.


Blue baby syndrome presents various symptoms:

Skin discoloration – An infant’s skin literally turns bluish due to insufficient or lack of oxygen in blood. An infant’s fingernails and lips also turn bluish.

Breathing difficulty – Insufficient amount of oxygen or lack of it in blood makes an infant find it difficult to breath. Such an infant is most likely to convulse, produce a lot of saliva or become unconscious.

Impaired development – When left untreated, Blue Baby syndrome impairs an infant’s development particularly of the brain, which can easily lead to mental degeneration.


There are several factors associated with occurrence of Blue baby syndrome. The first of this is excess amount of nitrates in an infant’s drinking water. Once ingested, an infant’s digestive system converts nitrates to nitrite, which reacts with oxyhemoglobin, whish is the protein that carries oxygenated blood. The reaction leads to formation of methoglobin, which is a protein incapable of carrying oxygen. Continued formation of methoglobin deprives an infant’s body of oxygen, leading to Blue baby syndrome.

Baby blue syndrome can also be caused by defects in an infant’s heart. Such defects include tetralogy of fallot and hypo-plastic left heart syndrome among other heart defects. Tetralogy fallot is in particular a major cause of this syndrome. It refers to a condition where an infant is born with an incomplete wall between the ventricles, which allows blood to flow from both ventricles instead of only one ventricle.

Respiratory infections – Respiratory infections caused by bacteria or other organisms make infants develop respiratory distress, which can easily lead to reduced oxygen in the body, leading to Blue baby syndrome.


Effective treatment of Blue baby syndrome always requires proper diagnosis and correct determination of cause.

Pediatricians normally recommend blood tests and X-ray before making a decision of the best treatment regime or method.

Treating Blue baby syndrome largely depends on cause. The syndrome caused by excess ingestion of nitrates involves prescription of medications and advice on how to make an infant’s drinking water safe.
Blue baby syndrome caused by existing heart disorders is normally treated through surgery and other procedures meant to correct such disorders.

Although a rare medical condition in developed world, Blue baby syndrome is still diagnosed in a number of developing countries around the world, countries where rural communities still rely on ground water for drinking.

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