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Bruises or red blood spots under the skin

If you bruise easily, you may not even remember what caused the bruise. Bruising easily does not mean that you have a serious health problem, especially if you only have one or two bruises or if an unexplained bruising does not occur very often.

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.

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Multiple bruises or red blood spots under the skin that appear suddenly for no obvious reason (in the absence of a bump or fall) are abnormal.

It may be a coincidence that bruises appear at the same time that you or your child becomes sick with an illness, such as the flu. However, unexplained blood spots under the skin (purpura or petechiae) that occur with signs of illness, such as a fever or severe headache, may mean a serious infection or medical condition that requires immediate medical care. Prompt medical treatment may prevent serious complications and even loss of life.

Other possible causes of bruises and blood spots under the skin include:

  • A medication, such as aspirin or blood thinners (anticoagulants).
  • Infection that causes the buildup of toxin in the blood or tissues (sepsis).
  • A bleeding or clotting disorder, such as hemophilia, von Willebrand's disease, or thrombocytopenia.
  • Other diseases that affect clotting. Examples include:
    • Chronic inflammatory diseases, such as lupus.
    • Liver disease, such as cirrhosis.
    • Some types of cancer, such as lymphoma, leukemia, or multiple myeloma.
  • Inflammation of a blood vessel (vasculitis).
  • Malnutrition, such as deficiencies of vitamins B12, C, or K, or folic acid.

Medical treatment for abnormal bruises may focus on stopping bleeding or treating any underlying medical problem that is causing the bruising.

Author Jan Nissl, RN, BS
Editor Susan Van Houten, RN, BSN, MBA
Associate Editor Tracy Landauer
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Alexander H. Murray, MD, FRCPC - Dermatology
Last Updated May 6, 2009

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: May 06, 2009
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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