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What Are Bruises?

A bruise is a common skin discoloration that results from the breakage of tiny blood vessels leaking under the skin after a traumatic injury. Blood from damaged blood vessels beneath the skin collects near the surface to appear as what we recognize as a black and blue mark. This mark is from skin discoloration by red blood cells and their contents. A bruise is also known as a contusion.

What Are Causes and Risk Factors for Bruises?

People typically get bruises on the body when they bump into something or when something bumps into them. Risk factors for bruises include the following:

  • Bruises can occur in some people who exercise rigorously, such as athletes and weight lifters. These bruises result from microscopic tears in blood vessels under the skin. Bruising in athletes can also result from direct impact/trauma and be accompanied by an underlying hematoma (clotted blood).
  • Unexplained, random bruises that occur easily or for no apparent reason may indicate a bleeding disorder or result from blood-thinning medications (anticoagulants), especially if the bruising is accompanied by frequent nosebleeds or bleeding gums.
  • Often, what are thought to be unexplained bruises on the shin or the thigh, for example, actually result from bumps into a bedpost or other object and failing to recall the injury.
  • Bruises in elderly people frequently occur because their skin has become thinner with age (senile purpura). The tissues that support the underlying blood vessels have become more fragile.
  • Bruising on the back of the hands and arms (called actinic purpura or solar purpura) occurs because skin there is often sun-damaged and thin.
  • Bruising occurs more commonly with vitamin C deficiency (ascorbic acid deficiency or scurvy).
  • Bruising can be a sign of physical abuse of the child (child abuse).
  • Alcohol abuse can cause people to bruise more easily.
  • Certain medical conditions, including leukemia, hemophilia, liver disease, Cushing's disease, Marfan's syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, connective tissue diseases, iron-deficiency anemia, or aplastic anemia, can lead to easy bruising and bleeding.
  • People taking certain types of medications may bruise more easily. These medications include: nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin); blood thinners such as warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), and heparin; steroids (prednisone); and some medications used to treat cancer.
Last Reviewed 11/20/2017

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