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Bruises and Blood Spots Under the Skin

Bruises and Blood Spots Under the Skin

Topic Overview

Bruises

Bruises develop when small blood vessels under the skin tear or rupture, most often from a bump or fall. Blood leaks into tissues under the skin and causes the black-and-blue color. As bruises (contusions) heal, usually within 2 to 4 weeks, they often turn colors, including purplish black, reddish blue, or yellowish green. Sometimes the area of the bruise spreads down the body in the direction of gravity. A bruise on a leg usually will take longer to heal than a bruise on the face or arms.

Most bruises are not a cause for concern and will go away on their own. Home treatment may speed healing and relieve the swelling and soreness that often accompany bruises that are caused by injury. But severe bruising, swelling, and pain that begin within 30 minutes of an injury may mean a more serious problem, such as a severe sprain or fracture .

If you bruise easily, you may not even remember what caused a bruise. Bruising easily does not mean you have a serious health problem, especially if bruising is minimal or only shows up once in a while.

  • Older adults often bruise easily from minor injuries, especially injuries to the forearms, hands, legs, and feet. As a person ages, the skin becomes less flexible and thinner because there is less fat under the skin. The cushioning effect of the skin decreases as the fat under the skin decreases. These changes, along with skin damage from exposure to the sun, cause blood vessels to break easily. When blood vessels break, bruising occurs.
  • Women bruise more easily than men, especially from minor injuries on the thighs, buttocks, and upper arms.
  • A tendency to bruise easily sometimes runs in families.

Occasionally after an injury, blood collects and pools under the skin (hematoma), giving the skin a spongy, rubbery, lumpy feel. A regular bruise is more spread out and may not feel like a firm lump. A hematoma usually is not a cause for concern. It is not the same thing as a blood clot in a vein, and it does not cause blood clots.

Bruises that do not appear to be caused by an accidental injury may be caused by abuse. It is important to consider this possibility, especially if the bruises can't be explained or if the explanations change or do not match the injury. Report this type of bruising and seek help to prevent further abuse.

Blood spots

Blood spots under the skin may be either purpura or petechiae . Purpura might look like bruises, but they are not caused by an injury as most regular bruises are. Petechiae don't look like bruises. They are tiny, flat, red or purple spots in the skin, but they are different than the tiny, flat, red spots or birthmarks (hemangiomas) that are present all the time.

Sudden unexplained bruising or blood spots under the skin or a sudden increase in the frequency of bruising may be caused by:

Medical treatment for abnormal bruising or blood spots focuses on preventing or stopping bleeding, changing or adjusting a medicine that may be causing the bruising, or treating the medical problem that is causing the bruising.

If the skin is injured over a bruise, be sure to watch for signs of a skin infection .

Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.

Check Your Symptoms

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Home Treatment

If your bruise does not require an evaluation by a doctor, you may be able to use home treatment to help relieve pain, swelling, and stiffness.

  • Rest and protect a bruised area.
  • Ice will reduce pain and swelling. Apply ice or cold packs immediately to prevent or minimize swelling. Apply the ice or cold pack for 10 to 20 minutes, 3 or more times a day.
    • For the first 48 hours after an injury, avoid things that might increase swelling, such as hot showers, hot tubs, hot packs, or alcoholic beverages.
    • After 48 to 72 hours, if swelling is gone, apply heat and begin gentle exercise with the aid of moist heat to help restore and maintain flexibility. Some experts recommend alternating between hot and cold treatments.
  • Compression, or wrapping the bruised area with an elastic bandage (such as an Ace wrap), will help decrease swelling. Don't wrap it too tightly, as this can cause more swelling below the affected area. Loosen the bandage if it gets too tight. Signs that the bandage is too tight include numbness, tingling, increased pain, coolness, or swelling in the area below the bandage. Talk to your doctor if you think you need to use a wrap for longer than 48 to 72 hours. A more serious problem may be present.
  • Elevate the bruised area on pillows while applying ice and anytime you are sitting or lying down. Try to keep the area at or above the level of your heart to help minimize swelling.
  • Gently massage or rub the area to relieve pain and encourage blood flow. Do not massage the bruised area if it causes pain.
  • If your bruise is causing pain, take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • If desired, apply a natural product directly to the bruise.
  • Do not smoke or use other tobacco products. Smoking slows healing because it decreases blood supply and delays tissue repair. For more information, see the topic Quitting Smoking.

Symptoms to watch for during home treatment

Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:

  • A bruise lasts longer than 2 weeks.
  • Signs of skin infection develop.
  • Symptoms become more severe or frequent.
  • New symptoms develop.

Prevention

You can't always prevent bruises , but most of the time bruises are not a cause for concern.

  • If you take aspirin, other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), or blood-thinning medicines ( anticoagulants ), keep regular appointments with your doctor so that he or she can monitor your medicine dosages and make any necessary changes or adjustments.
  • Eat a variety of foods to avoid dietary deficiencies. Nutritional deficiencies of vitamins C, K, or B12, or folic acid can affect blood clotting. Include a daily selection of:
    • Whole-grain and enriched breads, cereals, and grain products.
    • Vegetables.
    • Fruits.
    • Milk, cheese, and yogurt.
    • Meats, poultry, fish, eggs, dried beans and peas, and tofu.
  • Do not take dietary supplements that may increase bruising, particularly if you take a blood-thinning medicine. Dietary supplements that may increase bruising include fish oil, vitamin E, garlic, ginger, and ginkgo biloba.

Bruises are often the first sign of abuse. You may be able to prevent further abuse by reporting it and seeking help.

  • Call your local child or adult protective agency, police, or clergy or a health professional (such as a doctor, nurse, or counselor) if you suspect abuse.
  • Seek help if you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence.
  • Seek help if you have trouble controlling your anger with a child in your care.

Preparing For Your Appointment

To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.

You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the following questions:

  • Do you have a personal or family history of bleeding disorders or bruising easily?
  • Are you taking any prescription or nonprescription medicines? Bring a complete list of your medicines with you to your appointment.
  • Do you take any vitamins or dietary supplements? Describe your diet.
  • Have you had any recent injuries or blood transfusions?
  • Have you had any nosebleeds, bleeding gums, blood in the urine, unusual or unexpected heavy menstrual flow, or fever?
  • Have you had any recent illness or changes in your health?
  • Have you recently traveled outside the country or to a rural area?
  • Do you have any health risks?

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last Revised December 4, 2012

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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