Why Do I Bruise Easily?

Bruise like a peach? Find out how to know if those black and blue marks are a more serious health concern or if it’s just klutziness to blame.
Why Do I Bruise Easily?

Sure, we all get the occasional bumps and bruises, but some people seem to bruise like a peach at the smallest poke. Is excessive bruising just a reminder of being a total klutz, or could it be the sign of a more serious health concern? 

Black & Blue — Why It Matters

An unsightly bruise can pop up whenever and wherever capillaries (small blood vessels) under the skin are broken or ruptured due to a trauma— like running into the coffee table yet again. While most bruises tend to disappear within two to four weeks, they can go through many discoloration stages before and after the signature black and blue look Can we assess the age of bruises? An attempt to develop an objective technique. Grossman, S.E., Johnston, A., Vanezis, P., et al. William Harvey Research Institute, London. Medicine, Science, and the Law, 2011 Jul; 51 (3): 170-6..  When blood leaks from the vessels, a bruise starts as a bright or dark reddish-purple mark before fading away into that gross greenish-yellow shade.

The most common reasons for easy bruising aren’t a major cause for alarm A study of 31 patients with easy bruising from University Hospital, Kuala Lumpur. Chin, N.S. and Koong, P.L. University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur. The Medical Journal of Malaysia, 1990 Dec; 45 (4): 325-8.. Bruising easily is pretty common among older adults due to aging capillaries and thinner skin. But the higher a person's body fat, the more likely they may be to bruise up, which might explain why women are more prone to bruising than men Impact of sex, age, race, ethnicity and aspirin use on bleeding symptoms in healthy adults. Mauer, A.C., Khazanov, N.A., Levenkova, N., et al. The Rockefeller University, New York, NY. Journal of Thrombosis and Haemostasis, 2011 Jan; 9 (1): 100-8. Easy bruising in women. Garvey, B. Canadian Family Physician, 1984 Sept; 30: 1841-1844.. What goes into the body may also cause contusions. Blood-thinning drugs including aspirin, some dietary supplements (fish oil and ginkgo), or a lack of vitamins B12, C, K, and folic acid could also turn someone into a real bruiser.

It’s not just the most tender among us who are seeing spots. Easy bruising is also common among those who exercise rigorously (athletes and weight lifters). These visible bruises are tiny tears in the muscle’s blood vessels under the skin due to the strain of the activity itself (not just by bumping into a barbell). Alcohol consumption also plays a role (and not only because stumbling around in a drunken stupor can cause some tumbles). Studies show alcohol can act as a blood-thinner and decrease vitamin C levels, essential to helping the skin and blood vessels withstand impact.

Don’t Be Trippin’ — The Answer/Debate

Of course, there is always the possibility these ugly eyesores could more seriously indicate a blood-clotting problem or blood disease, lupus, liver disease, or some types of cancer. If bruises are especially big or painful, last more than four weeks, and are accompanied by abnormal bleeding elsewhere (nose, gums, etc.) it might be a good idea to see a doctor Bleeding and bruising: a diagnostic work-up. Ballas, M. and Kraut, E.H. Wilson Care, Fort Loramie, Ohio and The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio. American Family Physician, 2008 Apr 15; 77 (8): 1117-24..

For less serious issues (which is much more likely), here are a few tips for staying bruise-free. Trust us, looking like one of Cruella’s puppies is not a good look.

  • Cool down, then heat up. While most bruises go away on their own, some heavy-hitting welts might need some extra TLC. If the bruise is swollen, apply a cold compress and elevate the affected area. When the swelling decreases, apply a warm compress to speed up the healing.
  • Get the drug deal. Try acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen to reduce pain and swelling. Just remember, no aspirin! It’s a blood-thinner, not clotter!
  • Go green. Be sure to get enough vitamin K— the clotting vitamin! Find it in leafy greens and other veggies including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage.
  • Tidy up. Admit it. Maybe the easiest way to stay bruise-free is to finally clean up that mess of a bedroom, move clutter out of walkways, and tuck away stray cords that are just asking for a clumsy bump or two…
  • Use protection. If all else fails, it might just be time to invest in a helmet, shin guards, knee pads, or bubble wrap.

Are you an easy bruiser? What’s the worst bruise you’ve ever had? And be honest… what’s the embarrassing story behind how it got there?

Photo by Justin Singh

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