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We’ve all accidentally bumped into something or fallen down. The result? Sometimes an unsightly bruise. Usually, bruises aren’t a cause for concern, but when they occur from the slightest touch or mysterious black and blue marks keep showing up without explanation it can possibly mean an underlying medical condition.
Here’s everything you need to know about bruising and how to treat them approved by Johan Olof Lane, MD, Internal Medicine at NorthShore.
What are bruises:
Bruises (the medical term is contusions) occur when blood vessels (capillaries) are broken near the skin’s surface by the impact of a blow or injury and damage the body’s soft tissue. The result is usually a black-and-blue mark which occurs when blood leaks out of the vessels. Blood pooling and clotting beneath the surface causes skin discoloration. As a bruise heals, it will likely turn brown-green or yellow. This is a sign that your body is reabsorbing the blood and the mark will disappear within a week or two.
There are many common causes for bruising – usually it’s due to minor accidents, like sports, bumping into furniture, falling down or dropping something on your leg, hand or foot. However, sometimes it can be due to other factors:
Aging contributes to a higher risk of bruising because of a weakening of blood vessels. As we age, our skin becomes thinner, loses elasticity and some of the protective fatty layers that help cushion blood vessels from injury.
Poor diets can contribute to easier bruising. Vitamin C strengthens blood vessels and aids in tissue repair. Vitamin K is necessary for proper blood clotting. If you’re very deficient in either of these essential vitamins, then you may be more likely to bruise easier.
Taking certain medications can decrease blood clotting and cause bruising. Over-the-counter medicines like aspirin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (like ibuprofen) Plavix (clopidogrel) and blood thinners (like Coumadin) can increase your tendency to bruise. Antibiotics may be associated with clotting problems; topical and systemic corticosteroids – which are used to treat allergies, asthma and eczema – can make it easier for you to bruise. Also, certain dietary supplements like garlic, ginkgo, ginseng and fish oil can increase bruising due to a blood-thinning effect.
Having Diabetes also affects the body well beyond its blood sugar levels. People with Diabetes have the possibility of developing hyperglycemia (having too much glucose in the blood) and this can damage blood vessels over time which can contribute to increased chances of bruising.
While rare, there are possibilities your skin is turning purple because of a blood clotting disorder or leukemia (blood cancer). If you start noticing very large bruises in places you don’t normally get, there may be a cause for concern. It’s important to note that bruising is just a symptom, these disorders are also usually accompanied by fever, chills or unexplained weight loss.
Consult your doctor if you have any additional symptoms along with the bruising.
When you bruise it’s a waiting game. There isn’t much you can do to make them disappear faster. However, icing immediately after impact can help minimize bruising, make it smaller and less painful. Icing constricts the blood vessels and lessens the leakage under the skin. There’s research that topical vitamin k used in conjunction with topical arnica can help speed up the healing of bruises, too.