Excessive bruising occurs when an underlying factor makes the skin and blood capillaries fragile or interferes with blood’s ability to clot. This article explores common causes of excessive bruises and some of the treatment options.
What Causes Excessive Bruising?
Bruising after an injury that is normal. It simply occurs due to breakage of blood capillaries beneath the surface of the skin on impact, leading to leakage of blood into the surrounding tissues. Internal bleeding is what we then perceive as bruises.
Some people may however bruises excessively even with minimal trauma and yet others still bruise even without any obvious triggering factor e.g. injury which then raises the question that is all too common in online forums, “what causes excessive bruising?”
Side-effect of medications: there are various medications that are known to cause excessive bleeding including:
- Anticoagulants such as warfarin and heparin. These drugs are usually given to people with a problem with excessive clotting. They work by inhibiting clotting, but in some cases they decrease the ability of blood to clot too much that they cause excessive bruising.
- Aspirin. This is a common painkiller that is available in all manner of names such as Bayer Aspirin and Ecotrin among others. It also reduces the ability of blood to clot and can be a precursor to bruising easily or excessively.
- Corticosteroids e.g. prednisone. These are used to treat various medical conditions including allergies, asthma and eczema but can make your skin to thin out leading to excessive bruising even with minor injuries.
- Dietary food supplements such as ginkgo and fish oil also causes a blood thinning effect that may ultimately lead to a problem with excessive bruising.
All these lead to decreased ability of blood to clot after an injury which means that bleeding from capillaries that get damaged for whatever reason take longer to stop, allowing enough time for blood to collect in surrounding tissues.
Liver problems: The liver helps to regulate blood clotting and liver diseases such as hepatitis and cirrhosis e.g. primary biliary cirrhosis, can result in a tendency to bleed and bruise easily and excessively.
Aging: An answer to the question “what causes excessive bruising” cannot be complete without mentioning aging as it is one of the most important factors for unexplained bruising.
As people age, their skin loses its subcutaneous layers of fat which cushion blood vessels against trauma and the capillaries become more fragile due to a decrease in the level of production of collagen in the skin. These factors combine to make the skin more prone to bruising even with seeming insignificant injuries.
Nutritional vitamin deficiency: Vitamins are essential co-factors for numerous processes in the body. For example, vitamin K aids in blood clotting and can its deficiency affects normal blood clotting, often leading to easy and excessive bruising. Likewise, vitamin C is important for synthesis of collagen and other compounds that help blood vessels to withstand traumas.
You can easily rectify bruising due to nutritional deficiency by eating a balanced diet that includes lots of citrus fruits, mosambi, sesame seeds, and beetroot among other sources of vitamin C as well as foods rich in vitamin K such as mustard, spinach, turnip, broccoli, and Swiss chard.
Blood disorders: There are numerous blood disorders linked to poor clotting of blood leading to easy bruising and excessive bruising after injuries. These include:
- Hemophilia: A hereditary disorder whereby the body is not able to make enough of one or more of the blood clotting factors. This is nevertheless a rare cause of excessive bleeding.
- Leukemia: This is a cancer of the blood cells. In addition to easy bruising, it is associated with other symptoms such as fatigue, weight loss, excessive night sweating, and bone pain.
- Von Willebrand’s Disease: A genetic bleeding disorder that occurs when Von Willebrand factor – an important blood clotting protein – is present in low levels. Symptoms include excessive bleeding and bruising after minor injuries, nosebleeds, heavy menstrual periods, blood in urine or stool, and excessive bleeding from gums after dental procedures.
Excessive Bruising for No Reason
What is excessive bruising for no reason? “Mysterious and excessive bruising has been occurring on my shins and thighs for some time now, most of the time for no reason. I have a history of fairly easy bruising throughout my 65 years of age but not to the magnitude and frequency I have recently been witnessing. Could this be a sign of something sinister?” Kate – in an online health forum.
Well, Kate, the natural aging process could be the underlying cause of random bruises or excessive bruising for no reason that you are concerned about especially considering that you are over 60 years, the age at which bruising tends to become a common phenomenon as Gary Goldenberg, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at the Mount Sinai Hospital says.
If you are on some medications or food supplements, they could as well be the underlying cause for the excessive and unexplained bruising. Some common culprits are corticosteroids used to treat asthma, eczema and allergies; aspirin; anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen; and food supplements the likes of fish oil, garlic, and ginkgo biloba.
It is as well possible that you have inadequate amounts of iron, folic acid, and vitamins C, K, and B12. Consider adding foods rich in these vital nutrients in your diet.
Lastly, you could have a bleeding disorder especially if bruising is accompanied by other symptoms such as frequent nosebleeds and bleeding gums.
Your best bet would be to talk to your doctor about it for proper diagnosis and treatment. Mention any drugs that you may be taking to him/her.
Excessive Bruising on Legs Treatment
The legs and arms are the parts of the body that are most prone to bruising. Bruising on legs normally take longer to heal compared to other parts of the body e.g. arm and face. As for excessive bruising on legs, it may or may not be an indication of a serious medical condition.
In addition to the factors discussed above, i.e. nutritional deficiency, side-effect of medications, aging, blood disorders, and liver problems, you may also get excessive bruising on legs due to:
Strenuous activity or exercise: This can lead to microscopic tears and breakage in blood capillaries leading to internal bleeding that manifests itself as the bruises on legs (or any other part of the body for that matter).
Grave’s disease: This condition results when an overactive thyroid which then alters the body physiology leading to weight loss, thinning of skin and weak capillaries. As a result, a person suffering from this condition becomes particularly prone to bruising easily.
Vasculitis: This refers to numerous medical conditions that cause inflammation of blood vessels. It is marked by red bruises called purpura that occur from the bursting of blood vessels that commonly occur. Vasculitis is believed to be an autoimmune disorder and is often associated with chronic hepatitis. Patients with Vasculitis also experience numbness in hands and feet, coughing and shortness of breath.
Treatment of Excessive Bruising on Legs
- Cold compresses: Apply cold compresses during the first 48 hours to reduce swelling. This entails placing an ice pack on the bruised legs for 10 minutes or so 3times a day.
- Warm compresses: After 48 hours, apply a cloth soaked in war water on the skin for 10 minutes or so 3 times a day to help in reabsorption of blood into the body.
- Anti-inflammatory drugs: Take anti-inflammatory drugs such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) – but not aspirin or ibuprofen – to minimize pain.
- Keep the leg elevated
If the excessive bruising on legs however comes back so frequently, takes more than 2weeks to improve and more than 4 weeks to heal, or is accompanied by bleeding gums, heavy or prolonged menstrual cycles.
Excessive Bruising in Children
Bruises are common in children as they are normally more active and have a tendency to bump into things e.g. furniture and run into each other as they play. Common areas of the body where children tend to sustain bruises are lower arms, forehead, shins, and chin.
Excessive bruising in children may however be a sign of an underlying medical condition or nutritional deficiency and warrants a consultation with your doctor or pediatrician, especially if it occurs in uncommon areas e.g. neck, buttocks, upper legs, side of face, ears, and upper arms. The same case applies to bruising that seem to suddenly get worse than normal.
If your family has a history of excessive bruising and bleeding, it is also advisable to seek prompt medical attention. As for an infant who doesn’t crawl, you should take her to a pediatrician if bruises suddenly appear. Excessively bruising teenagers whose menstrual cycle also gets abnormally heavy or prolonged(more than 7 days) should also seek medical attention.
Excessive Bruising and Anemia
Too much bruising is often associated with anemia. This is a blood disorder characterized by presence of low count of healthy red blood cells. It can as well occur as a result of lack of enough hemoglobin in blood. Hemoglobin is the iron-rich protein in red blood cells that aids in transporting of oxygen in the body.
A plastic anemia, another form of anemia, is also linked to excessive bruising. This is characterized by low red blood cells as well as platelets and white blood cell count, usually as a result of damaged bone marrow stem cells.
Blood tests are usually needed for diagnosis of anemia after which the doctor will prescribe necessary medications. It is also important to have iron rich foods such as spinach, liver, etc. iron supplements may also help.
Excessive Bruising in Women and Elderly
Women are at higher risk of bruising than men and some women may find that excessive bruising is a common phenomenon throughout their lives. As for the elderly, they are more susceptible to excessive bruising even with small impacts due to the thinning of skin (loos of fat) and fragility of the underlying blood vessels that typically come with the natural ageing process.
While bruising is not necessarily a cause for concern, seek medical attention if you feel it occurs too frequently, takes longer than a few weeks to improve, or occurs alongside other symptoms such as bleeding gums and frequent nosebleeds.