Signs of Disease in the Human Tongue

The tongue can be a helpful organ when diagnosing different ailments. Most doctors automatically check tongues during a general office visit, and you can easily look at your tongue to help keep tabs on your health. Some tongue irregularities can be caused by allergic reactions, heavy smoking or side effects of medications, while others can be a sign of disease.

Soreness and Swelling

A sore or swollen tongue can indicate disease. Sore tongues are achy and sensitive and often accompanied by a bitter taste, dryness or lack of taste in the mouth. Swollen tongues are those that are enlarged and clumsy. An inflamed tongue and surrounding mucous membranes can be a sign of stomatitis--inflammation of the mucous lining of structures in the mouth 1. Other diseases often marked by a sore and swollen tongue are heart, brain or bowel disorders and those that attack blood vessels or body tissues.

Rash and Itchiness

An itchy tongue, or one that is coated with a rash, may indicate disease. Pay attention to itchiness or a rash on the tongue. It might be the sign of an infection in your body.


Discoloration of the tongue may indicate any of a number of diseases. Tongues may develop white spots, white patches or a white coating, which might be the sign of an autoimmune disease. Red or inflamed tongues might be a sign of anemia. Black, hairy tongues might be a sign of the mouth disease gingivostamitis. Tongues that are blue or pale might indicate lung or heart disease or anemia. Tongues that are dark, with blackish-blue, brown or black pigments, might indicate melanoma, or skin cancer. Glossitis, or an inflamed, red tongue, might be a sign of HIV or the chronic conditions of heart disease or diabetes. Tongues that turn red and bumpy, like a strawberry, might indicate toxic shock syndrome. Strawberry tongue might also be sign of Kawasaki disease, which affects lymph nodes. Furry tongues, which appear to have a layer of fur or hair on them, might indicate gastrointestinal disease. Any discoloration of the tongue also can be a sign of cancer.

Ulcers and Bumps

Ulcers and bumps on the tongue are other potential signs of disease. Ulcers can be a sign of tuberculosis.

Other Symptoms

A swollen, painful and burning tongue might indicate glossodynia, also known as burning mouth syndrome 2. It can be a symptom of diabetes. A weak tongue also might be a sign of diabetes, as well as alcoholism and multiple sclerosis. Two more symptoms that might indicate disease are a small tongue tongue and a numb or tingling tongue, known as paresthesia.