Written by Amber Erickson Gabbey | Published on August 20, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD on August 20, 2012

What Is Purpura?

Purpura, also called blood spots or skin hemorrhages, refers to purple-colored spots that are most recognizable on the skin. The spots could also be located on organs or mucous membranes, including the inside of the mouth.

Purpura occurs when small blood vessels burst, causing blood to pool under the skin. This results in purple spots on the skin that range in size from small dots to larger patches. Purpura spots are generally benign, but may indicate a more serious medical condition such as blood clotting disorders.

What Causes Purpura?

There are two kinds of purpura: nonthrombocytopenic and thrombocytopenic. Nonthrombocytopenic means that you have normal levels of platelets (which help your blood clot) in your blood. Thrombocytopenic means that you have a lower-than-average platelet count.

The following could cause nonthrombocytopenic purpura:

  • disorders affecting blood clotting
  • certain congenital (present at or before birth) disorders such as rubella and cytomegalovirus
  • certain medications (including steroids and those that affect platelet functioning)
  • weak blood vessels
  • inflammation in the blood vessels (including Henoch-Schonlein purpura)
  • scurvy (severe lack of vitamin C)

The following could cause thrombocytopenic purpura:

  • medications that inhibit platelets from forming
  • recent blood transfusions
  • immune disorders such as idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (which has no known cause)
  • infection in the bloodstream

Diagnosing and Treating Purpura

To diagnose purpura, your doctor will examine your skin. He or she may ask about your family and personal health history, such as when the spots first appeared. Your doctor may also perform a biopsy of the skin in addition to blood and platelet count tests. These tests will help assess whether or not your purpura is a result of a more serious condition, such as a platelet or blood disorder. The levels of platelets can help identify the cause of the purpura and will help your doctor determine the best method of treatment.

Treatment depends on the underlying cause of purpura.

Outlook for Purpura

The outlook for purpura depends on the underlying condition causing it. When a diagnosis is confirmed, your doctor will discuss treatment options and the long-term outlook for your condition.

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