Bruising (ecchymosis) happens when small blood vessels (capillaries) break under your skin. This can cause bleeding within the skin tissue. You’ll see discoloration from the bleeding under your skin, which is a bruise.
Most of us get bruises from bumping into objects from time to time. In cases of severe impact or trauma, bruising is often unavoidable and is more extensive. However, the occasional bruise or a bruise due to an accident, typically isn’t a cause for concern.
However, if you bruise easily, you have unexplained bruising, or the bruising is accompanied by bleeding elsewhere, it could be a sign of a condition that needs medical attention.
In this article we’ll take a closer look at what can cause you to bruise easily and when it’s important to see your doctor.
When you bump against an object, your body normally responds by forming clots to stop the bleeding, which prevents bruising. But sometimes your blood isn’t able to form clots as it should. When this happens, you may notice that you bruise easily.
Bruising is more common among older adults. This is because your skin tends to become thinner as you age. Also, as you get older, you tend to lose some of the fatty layer in your skin that helps protect your blood vessels from injury.
If you seem to be bruising easily, it could also be due to medications, a medical condition, or even a vitamin deficiency. These causes are covered in more detail below.
Some types of medication can interfere with your body’s ability to form blood clots, which can increase your risk of bruising easily. Medications that are known to reduce your blood’s ability to clot include the following:
- Blood thinners. These medications are often used for heart attack and stroke prevention. Your healthcare provider may also prescribe these medications if you have atrial fibrillation, deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, or a recent cardiac stent placement. Examples of these medication include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These medications are commonly used as pain relievers. Unlike other pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), NSAIDs also reduce swelling caused by inflammation. When used over a long period of time, these drugs can increase bleeding. Common NSAIDs include:
- Steroids. Some types of steroid medications can cause you to bruise more easily. This is especially the case with topical corticosteroids, as these may thin out your skin. Topical steroids are often used in the treatment of eczema and other skin rashes. Oral forms may be used for asthma, allergies, and severe colds.
- Some herbs and supplements.
Certain herbs and supplementsare believed to affect your body’s ability to clot and may lead to easy bruising, though evidence for such side effects is limited in the literature. Some examples include:
If you notice that you have increased bruising, do not stop taking your medications. Instead, talk with your doctor about this issue.
Also, always make sure your doctor or healthcare professional knows about any herbs or supplements you’re taking as this could affect your blood’s ability to clot, especially if your doctor prescribes blood-thinner or steroid medications for you.
If you bruise easily, your inability to form clots may be the result of an underlying medical condition. The formation of blood clots relies on good nutrition, a healthy liver, and healthy bone marrow. If any of these factors are slightly off, bruising can occur more easily.
Some medical conditions that can cause easy bruising include:
- Hemophilia A. This condition, which is also known as classical hemophilia or factor VIII, is typically inherited. It’s caused by a missing or defective clotting protein called factor VIII. With hemophilia A, your blood takes a long time to form clots, which can result in bruising. This rare condition can be serious. It has no cure but can be treated.
- Hemophilia B. With hemophilia B, also known as “Christmas disease,” your body produces little or no factor IX, another type of protein that helps your blood to clot. This can lead to prolonged or spontaneous bleeding, making it easy for bruises to form under your skin.
- Von Willebrand disease. Von Willebrand disease is caused by a genetic mutation that results in a deficiency of a protein known as von Willebrand factor (VWF). This is a type of protein that helps your blood to clot.
- A low platelet count. Platelets are a type of blood cell that clump together to form clots to stop you from bleeding. When you don’t have enough platelets in your blood, it can cause severe bleeding. Exposure to chemotherapy, radiation, or toxic chemicals may affect your platelet count. Certain disease may also affect your platelet count, such as:
- Cushing’s syndrome. Cushing’s syndrome, also known as hypercortisolism, is a condition where you have abnormally high levels of the hormone cortisol in your body. One of the possible symptoms is skin that bruises easily.
- Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS). This syndrome encompasses a group of inherited diseases that affect your connective tissue, specifically your skin, blood vessel walls, and joints. Because the skin, blood vessels, and the connective tissue around the blood vessels are very fragile, bruising can happen easily.
- Vitamin deficiencies. Deficiencies in vitamins that help your blood clot, such as vitamin K and vitamin C may also contribute to easy bruising. Being malnourished can increase the chance of being deficient in key vitamins and nutrients. Your healthcare provider can order a blood test to check for vitamin deficiencies and may recommend vitamin supplements depending on the results.
While the occasional bruise isn’t a cause for concern, easy bruising could be. If you notice more frequent bruising, it’s important to talk with your healthcare professional so they can work with you to determine the cause.
Aside from a physical exam to look at any bruises, your healthcare provider will likely ask you questions about your family medical history.
They may also order blood tests to measure your platelet levels and the time it takes your blood to clot. This can help determine how your body responds to minor injuries in which capillaries burst and form bruises.
Children are often more prone to bruising than the average adult. This is typically due to being active, playing sports, or moving quickly.
As with adults, if a child seems to be getting bruised more easily than usual, it could be due to certain medications or underlying conditions.
Call your child’s healthcare professional if your child experiences frequent, unexplained bruises along with:
In most cases, bruises go away on their own without care. After several days, your body will typically reabsorb the blood that initially caused the discoloration. However, there are steps you can take to help the bruise recover.
- Cold compress. If there’s swelling and pain with bruising, the first line of treatment is to apply a cold compress. Remember to put a barrier (like a cloth or thin towel) between the cold object and your bare skin. Place the compress on your skin for up to 20 minutes at a time.
- Elevation. If an arm or leg is involved, elevate the limb and apply a cold compress for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, or until the swelling is reduced.
- Over-the-counter medication. You can take acetaminophen (Tylenol) to treat the pain.
While certain conditions and medications can cause you to bruise more easily, you may still be able to prevent bruises. One method is to take extra care as you age. Skin in older adults is generally thinner, which can increase your risk of bruising.
You may also be able to prevent getting bruised by taking the following steps:
- Talk with your healthcare professional about any medications that may be causing you to bleed and bruise more easily. They can work with you to modify your treatment plan. Never stop taking any medications on your own. Some medications may require a gradual reduction and careful monitoring.
- Getting the right nutrients may also help protect against easy bruising. Try to eat foods containing vitamin C and vitamin K, or consider taking supplements.
- Watch where you’re walking. Try to avoid looking at your phone or being distracted when you’re walking.
- Use handrails when you’re walking up or down stairs.
- Get your vision tested to make sure you can see clearly enough to avoid any obstacles that could injure you.
- Remove household hazards that you can trip over or bump into. Get rid of clutter and cords that may cause you to stumble or fall.
- Improve your sense of balance by practicing balance exercises.
- Wear protective gear when you’re exercising.
Call your doctor if you’re bruising more frequently than usual and if bruising is accompanied by bleeding from anywhere else. This could indicate a serious condition that needs immediate attention.
It’s also important to be aware that unexplained bruising may be a sign of domestic violence or assault. Healthcare professionals are required by law to ask you questions to make sure you’re safe in your domestic situation.
If you need help because of domestic violence or sexual assault, talk with a healthcare professional, or access resources and assistance through our domestic violence resource guide.
Bruising happens when capillaries break open under your skin, causing bleeding within the skin tissue. The resulting discoloration from the bleeding is a bruise.
Bruises usually aren’t a cause for concern. But if you notice that you’re bruising more easily than usual, or the bruises are larger and are accompanied by other symptoms, it’s best to follow up with a healthcare professional.
An increase in bruising can be a side effect of some medications, especially blood thinners, NSAIDS, and steroids. It may also be due to an underlying health condition or a vitamin deficiency.
If you think your increased bruising is a result of your medication, don’t stop taking your medication or change your dosage. Instead, discuss your concerns with your doctor to find the treatment plan that works best for you.