Bruising is an area of discolored skin that develops when the lining of small blood vessels is damaged, allowing blood cells to escape into the skin and tissues. This condition most often occurs after a person knocks or otherwise injures a part of the body.
There are three types of bruises:
As a person ages, he or she will bruise more easily. The layer of protective fat just under the skin becomes thinner. The small blood vessels also become more fragile and are more easily damaged. Frequent long-term exposure to the sun can also cause the skin to be more fragile and likely to bruise. A tendency to bruise easily may run in families.
Possible causes of bruising include:
Bruises can last from days to months and usually occur in several stages. A bruise generally starts out as a pinkish-red area or as tiny red dots or blotches on the skin. The bruise may be very small and may blend in with the texture of the skin, or it may be large, swollen, and painful. Within days to a week or so, the bruise becomes more purple. As it heals, it becomes brownish-yellow. Generally, bruises heal and disappear within 2 to 3 weeks.
The way one deals with bruising obviously depends on the cause. Some cases of bruising may be prevented or reduced if the cause is eliminated, such as replacing vitamins in someone who has vitamin deficiency.
Sometimes it may not be possible to determine or treat the underlying cause. In such cases, being careful not to bang or knock the skin against hard surfaces will decrease the likelihood of developing bruises. In general, wearing protective clothing will also prevent or lessen bruising. Avoiding excessive exposure to the sun may minimize skin damage.
If a person is taking a blood thinner (e.g. aspirin or warfarin), it is important that they take it exactly as prescribed in order to reduce the likelihood of bruising.
A person who has hemophilia may be given blood transfusions; a person who has nutritional deficiencies may be given special dietary recommendations; a person who has leukemia or cancer may require special medications and procedures; a person who has bacteria in the blood may need antibiotics.
See a doctor if...
A double-blind study of 96 people with fragile capillaries found that bioflavonoids decreased the tendency to bruise [Int Angiol. 1993;12: pp.69-72]. In a single-blind study of 27 wrestlers, 71% of those taking a placebo were injured, with bruises making up more than half their injuries; in contrast, only 38% of those taking the supplement were injured, none of whom sustained bruises. In a follow-up double-blind study of 40 football players, the treated group received fewer severe bruises than the group taking placebo [Med Times. 1960;88: pp.313-316].
Many people eat insufficient amounts of foods containing vitamin C; the disease caused by vitamin C deficiency, scurvy, causes easy bruising. While very few people actually have scurvy, even minor deficiencies of vitamin C can increase bruising. Fruits are common dietary sources of vitamin C.
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