Skin turgor is the skin's elasticity. It is the ability of skin to change shape and return to normal.
Skin turgor is a sign of fluid loss (dehydration). Diarrhea or vomiting can cause fluid loss. Infants and young children with these conditions can rapidly lose lot of fluid, if they do not take enough water. Fever speeds up this process.
To check for skin turgor, the health care provider grasps the skin between two fingers so that it is tented up. Commonly on the lower arm or abdomen is checked. The skin is held for a few seconds then released.
Skin with normal turgor snaps rapidly back to its normal position. Skin with poor turgor takes time to return to its normal position.
Lack of skin turgor occurs with moderate to severe fluid loss. Mild dehydration is when fluid loss of 5% of the body weight. Moderate dehydration is 10% loss and severe dehydration is 15% or more loss of body weight.
Edema is a condition where fluid builds up in the tissues and causes swelling. This causes the skin to be extremely difficult to pinch up.
Common causes of poor skin turgor are:
Connective tissue disorders such as scleroderma and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome can affect the elasticity of the skin. These connective tissue disorders do not have to do with fluids.
You can quickly check for dehydration at home. Pinch the skin over the back of the hand, on the abdomen, or over the front of the chest under the collarbone. This will show skin turgor.
Mild dehydration will cause the skin to be slightly slow in its return to normal. To rehydrate, drink more fluids -- particularly water.
Severe turgor indicates moderate or severe fluid loss. See your provider right away.
Call your provider if:
The provider will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your medical history, including:
Tests that may be performed:
You may need intravenous fluids for severe fluid loss. You may need medicines to treat other causes of poor skin turgor and elasticity.
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.