Bruising, ecchymosis, occurs when blood vessels under the skin are broken or ruptured. This causes bleeding under the skin, which can result in an unsightly black and blue blemish. Bruises can appear in various sizes, shapes, and deepness of colors. The more forceful an impact is the more damaging a bruise can be, and vice versa. Depending on the severity of a bruise, it can take days, for minor bruises, to weeks or even months for deep bruises.
While bruises typically are a result of impact with the skin, and often require more forceful impacts than a typical ‘bumping into something, there are several health conditions that can cause someone to bruise more easily than normal. Whatever the cause, if bruising becomes more common and easier than normal, contact a doctor for information on the right course of action. Below are some of the most common health conditions that cause bruising to occur more frequently.
Aging Causes Bruising Easily
One of the most common causes of skin bruising more frequently is aging. As the body gets older, the skin becomes more fragile, and as the layer of fat beneath the skin gets thinner, it loses the ability to protect itself against bumps and scrapes, causing bruises to form more easily.
The blood vessels underneath the skin also deteriorate as the body ages, which leads to more frequent damage and bleeding from minor impacts. Women are more likely to notice this diminishing skin integrity as they age, as the fatty layer of skin that protects the blood vessels from impact is thinner in women than in men.
While the ability to bruise more easily does increase with age, not all people are created equally. For some, bruising increases dramatically with age, and is more likely to have deeper, more severe bruises. Others may notice bruising doesn’t happen nearly as often or easily.
Vitamin Deficiencies May Cause You to Bruise Easily
Another common cause of easy bruising is vitamin deficiencies. Vitamins are organic molecules that are essential to proper metabolism function. These are nutrients that cannot be synthesized, created, either in large amounts or at all. This means that vitamins must be supplemented via the diet. Since vitamins need to be obtained from food, vitamin deficiencies are a very common problem for many people.
Vitamins help the body with a variety of different tasks from eye health to hormone production. Vitamins C and K are essential for the body to be able to heal and for the blood to clot (respectively). Deficiencies in either of these vitamins can cause the body to bruise more easily.
- Vitamin C: Low levels of vitamin C can cause a condition called scurvy, often associated with sailors in the 15th to 18th centuries, which can cause bleeding, tooth loss, anemia, and a slower rate of healing from injuries. While very rare, low levels of vitamin C have been observed more in both older individuals and smokers. Foods high in vitamin C include most fruits and vegetables.
- Vitamin K: Vitamin K is essential for the body’s ability to clot its blood. Newborns are administered a vitamin K shot at birth, since newborns have virtually none in their body, to prevent dangerous, uncontrolled bleeding. Adults with low levels of vitamin K can notice an increase in the ease with which bruises occur, as the inability to clot blood properly can increase the severity of normal bruises. Foods high in vitamin K include leafy greens, pumpkins, figs, and parsley.
Since vitamin deficiencies are directly related to diet, they are relatively easy to correct. Supplements can be an easy and effective way to replace missing vitamins with an existing diet, however, consulting with a doctor before starting a vitamin supplement is recommended.
Side Effect of Medicines or Supplements
Some medications can cause the body to bruise more easily. These medications are often anticoagulants, blood thinners, such as aspirin or warfarin. These medications are often prescribed in preventative measures against heart attacks and strokes, as they can decrease blood clots that can cause deadly strokes or heart attacks. These medications, however, can cause the body to bruise much easier than normal, as the ability to clot the blood can help prevent bruising.
Steroids can also cause the body to bruise easily, especially prednisone and topical steroids such as corticosteroids. Topical steroids, such as those used to treat eczema or other skin conditions, can thin the skin, making bruises occur more frequently.
Alcohol Abuse Can Cause You to Bruise Easily
Alcohol consumption on its own will not cause the body to bruise easily, however, the prolonged abuse of alcohol can. Alcoholism can lead to serious health conditions that can affect the function of the liver, such as cirrhosis.
Cirrhosis, and other liver conditions, greatly affect the body’s ability to clot blood. As the liver deteriorates, it loses the ability to produce certain proteins that can help the body clot blood properly. While easy bruising may not be a sign of serious liver conditions such as cirrhosis, heavy drinkers that also notice an increase in bruising should contact a doctor, as it can be a warning sign of a serious liver condition.
Certain Types of Cancers
While not likely, easy bruising could be a sign of certain cancers such as Leukemia, although it is often accompanied by excessive bleeding as well. Cancers like Leukemia affect the body’s bone marrow and blood, which can cause sudden increases in bruising and bleeding. Other indications could be bleeding gums, excessive tiredness, constantly feeling achy or weak, or losing weight without trying to.
Several genetic disorders can cause a person to bleed or bruise excessively. Conditions such as Von Willebrand disease (VWD) and Hemophilia (A and B). Both conditions affect a person’s ability to effectively clot blood, due to the absence of certain proteins.
VWD is very rare, affecting around 1% of the United States population. While this condition is equal among both men and women, it is often more serious in women, as the bleeding caused by the menstrual cycle can lead to more excessive symptoms. VWD is usually treated by synthetic hormones, which can help improve clotting.
Hemophilia is a much rarer condition, affecting about 20,000 people in the United States. It is genetic, meaning it is passed down from parent to child. The condition is caused by a missing specific protein, referred to as factors depending on the protein. These factors (I, II, VI, VII, XI, and XIII), cause different types and severities of hemophilia; all of which are treated differently.
The important thing to note is that these conditions are genetic. Symptoms do not suddenly appear, rather they persist from birth. It is very rare to be diagnosed with either of these conditions later in life, and are often first observed in young children.
Bottom Line on Why You Might Bruise Easily
The cause of easy bruising can range from vitamin deficiencies to medication side effects and can sometimes be an indication of more serious conditions. It is important to understand when a bruise may be more than just a black and blue blemish, and when medical advice may be needed. A doctor should be consulted when:
- Bruising occurs more easily than normal
- Other symptoms, such as yellow skin, a fever, low energy, or skin changes occur
- Medication is being taken and bruising occurs more frequently
- Bruises are very slow to heal and are more painful than normal
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