What Causes Hematoma?
Hematomas are usually caused by trauma, whether it is the result of a car accident, a minor bump, a cough, or an unknown event. The blood within blood vessels is continually flowing and therefore does not clot or coagulate. When blood leaves the circulatory system and becomes stagnant, there is almost immediate clotting. The greater the amount of bleeding that occurs, the larger the hematoma.
Anticoagulant medications, including aspirin, warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix) and dipyridamole (Persantine) may be associated with blood clots. Diseases or infections may occur that decrease the number of platelets in the bloodstream or their ability to function. The platelets are the cells that help initiate blood clotting. If platelets are inhibited, bleeding can continue and hematomas can develop and expand. Examples of bacterial infections, autoimmune diseases, and other situations that may lead to hematomas include:
- Finger infections
- Ankylosing spondylitis
- Hematomas of the ear may occur if an injury causes bleeding to the cartilage structure of the ear. A common complication of ear hematomas is cauliflower ear.
- Septal hematoma may occur due to nose injuries. A septal hematoma may form associated with a broken nose, and if not recognized and removed, the cartilage can break down and cause a perforation of the septum.
- Internal bleeding into the abdomen may be life-threatening depending upon the cause and the situation and lead to irritation of the lining of the abdomen.
- Hematomas may occur in solid organs like the liver, spleen, and kidney, or they may occur within the walls of the small intestine or colon. Hematomas may also form within the lining of the abdomen or behind in the space where the kidneys are located.
- Orthopedic injuries or broken bones may cause hematomas. Bone marrow is where much of the body's blood production occurs, and a fracture may cause significant blood loss.
- Compartment syndrome is an uncommon complication of bleeding and hematoma due to injury. This is an orthopedic emergency as it requires surgery to correct. Symptoms of compartment syndrome include intense pain made worse with movement of the fingers or toes and numbness and tingling of the extremity with decreased pulses in the hand, leg, or foot.
- Pregnancy is associated with subchorionic hemorrhage about 25% of the time. It is the most common abnormality seen by sonographic analysis in pregnant women. Most small to moderate hematomas regress and do not worsen the patient's prognosis. Blood clots and/or bleeding in the third trimester may be a sign of problems such as placenta previa or placental abruption and is considered a medical emergency.
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What Are Different Types of Hematoma?
There are many different types of hematomas, and they are described by the location of the hematoma. Examples include the following:
Intracranial hematomas can be epidural (above the epidural membrane), subdural (below the epidural membrane), intracerebral (within the brain tissue), or subarachnoid (between the pial and arachnoid membranes in the brain). Although a few intracranial hematomas may remain small and not significantly compromise brain tissue, most intracranial hematomas are considered to be a medical emergency because they can compress brain tissue and blood vessels resulting in significant brain damage.
Symptoms of intracranial hemorrhage and/or hematoma depend upon where the brain is affected. General symptoms include altered consciousness, nausea and vomiting, headache, focal neurological deficits, neck stiffness, and some patients may have seizures and/or coma develop.
In most patients, intracranial hematoma that produces symptoms is considered to be a medical emergency and specialized medical professionals (neurosurgeons) are consulted urgently.
Picture of an epidural, subdural, and intracerebral hematomas
An injury to the bed of a finger or toenail may cause a subungual hematoma. This type of hematomas typically causes significant pain because it is trapped in a small space that does not allow room for the bleeding to expand. The treatment may include burning a small hole through the nail itself to allow the blood to drain.
Picture of a subungual hematoma
Hematoma Symptoms in Tissues Other Than the Brain
Hematomas cause irritation and inflammation. Symptoms depend upon their location and whether the size of the hematoma or the associated swelling and inflammation cause nearby structures to be affected. The common symptoms of inflammation include:
- pain, and
Hematomas tend to resolve over time.
- The initial firm texture of the blood clot gradually becomes more spongy and soft as the clot is broken down by the body.
- The shape changes as the fluid drains away and the hematoma flattens.
- The color changes from that of a purplish-blue bruise to yellows and browns as the blood clot degrades and the hematoma resolves.
What Are the Symptoms of Brain Hematoma?
Head and physical trauma injuries may cause life-threatening bleeding and hematomas. Seek medical care if an individual experiences the following symptoms after a head or other traumatic physical injury:
Hematomas may occur commonly and some have little importance while others are life-threatening. Many times it is a matter of location and situation that makes the hematoma a critical condition instead of an inconvenience.
When Should I Call the Doctor if I Suspect a Hematoma?
Most hematomas are due to minor trauma and the patient is aware of the injury and its circumstances. Most resolve without any consequence and need no evaluation. However, if a person develops symptoms such as confusion, intense headache, uneven pupils or other neurological signs after any trauma, seek medical care immediately.
It is important to pay attention to specific hematomas because of their complications. Always take head injuries seriously because a small amount of blood and clot can cause significant pressure changes within the skull and perhaps lead to brain damage.
Blood clots are not normal in the urine or in bowel movements because they may be associated with significant bleeding. Blood in these locations may be associated with infections, cancers, tumors, or other lesions that can be life threatening, but potentially curable if found early. (Please note that bladder infections may be associated with hematuria or blood in the urine and may not need further evaluation once the infection has been treated; clot and hematoma formation is rare.)
While most people have bruising as a common injury due to the minor accidents of daily life, some people with bleeding disorders where their blood lacks certain clotting factors may develop unexplained bruising and bleeding and may benefit from seeking medical care. Similarly, patients who take blood thinners are at higher risk of bleeding from minor injuries and should seek medical attention if they sustain even minor injuries.
How Is Hematoma Diagnosed?
Most hematomas can be evaluated and safely treated without laboratory or radiology tests. Often the health care professional will be able to take a history and perform a physical examination and decide that no further evaluation is required.
However, depending upon the injury or presentation, blood tests may be ordered, including a hemogram to assess the red blood cell count (often the hemoglobin and hematocrit are measured) and clotting studies, including an international normalized ratio (INR), and partial thromboplastin time (PTT), a blood test that measures how long it takes for blood to clot. The INR is routinely measured in individuals taking the blood thinning medication, warfarin, to help monitor the individual's medication dosing.
Depending upon the site of injury or other associated factors, the health care professional may request additional testing. CT scans are useful in looking for blood in the brain or abdomen. Ultrasound is often used for pregnant patients who have vaginal bleeding.
What Are the Home Remedies for Hematoma?
Most hematomas of the skin are caused by contusions and can be treated with rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE). They will gradually resolve over time. Depending upon the location, immobilization of the area for a few days may speed healing, but there needs to be a balance between healing and retaining range of motion of the affected body part.
Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications including acetaminophen and ibuprofen may be useful in controlling the inflammation and pain. It is important to remember that even OTC medications have side effects and their use should be discussed with a health care professional or pharmacist. For example, patients taking blood thinners should be cautious about taking ibuprofen because of the risk of stomach bleeding while patients who have liver disease should carefully monitor the amount of acetaminophen they take.
What Is the Treatment for Hematoma?
Medical care and definitive treatment of a hematoma depends upon its location, what body parts are affected, and what symptoms are present. For example, a small hematoma of the brain may be observed if the patient is fully awake, while another patient with a head injury may require an operation to save brain tissue. The same may be true with a patient with an intra-abdominal hematoma. If the patient is stable, observation may be appropriate, but if shock develops, some surgical intervention may be required.
What Is the Follow-up for Hematoma?
Most hematomas resolve spontaneously and need no further evaluation.
Since blood is a rich medium full of nutrients, some hematomas may become infected. Individuals with a hematoma should monitor for signs of increased pain, warmth, and redness. This may be difficult to differentiate from the symptoms of inflammation of the hematoma itself. However, infections often are associated with fever; and pus and red streaking that develop around the hematomas give clues that an infection is brewing.
Patients taking blood thinners may be at risk for continued bleeding and the amount of bleeding may need to be monitored by repeated blood tests measuring the hemoglobin and INR.
How Can I Prevent Hematoma?
Accidents happen and most hematomas are inevitable.
For persons taking anti-coagulation medications, it is wise to avoid participating in events with high risk of injury. For patients taking warfarin (Coumadin), it is important to monitor the medication dosing on a regular basis to keep the blood thinned and the INR in the appropriate range for the disease being treated.
What Is the Prognosis for Hematoma?
- Blood vessels are routinely injured and may leak blood, causing hematomas or blood clots.
- Depending upon their size and location, hematomas may be insignificant or may cause life-threatening damage.
- People who take blood thinners like warfarin (Coumadin) and clopidogrel (Plavix) are at higher risk of bleeding from minor injuries.
- Most hematomas resolve by themselves and need no further treatment, but some may require surgical treatment.
- Take injuries to the head seriously because of the risk of bleeding causing injuries like epidural, subdural, and intracerebral hemorrhage.
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Medically reviewed by John A. Daller, MD; American Board of Surgery with subspecialty certification in surgical critical care
Liebeskind, S. et al. "Intracranial Hemorrhage." Medscape. Dec. 7, 2018.
Liebeskind, S. et al. "Epidural Hematoma." Medscape. Jan. 9, 2018.
Olson, D. et al. "Head Injury." Medscape. Oct. 1, 2018.