When does easy bruising indicate a more serious problem?

Easy bruising sometimes indicates a serious underlying condition, such as a blood-clotting problem or a blood disease. Consult your doctor if you:

  • Have unusually large or painful bruises, especially if your bruises seem to develop for no known reason
  • Have easy bruising and abnormal bleeding elsewhere, such as from your nose, gums or intestinal tract
  • Suddenly begin bruising, especially if you recently started a new medication
  • Develop bruising during an illness in addition to fever or confusion

These signs and symptoms can indicate low levels of or abnormally functioning platelets — components of blood that help it clot after an injury — or problems with proteins that help the blood clot. To diagnose the cause of your bruising, your doctor might check your blood platelet levels or do tests that measure the ability of your blood to clot.

Other serious causes of bruising include domestic violence or abuse. If a loved one has an unexplainable bruise, particularly in an unusual location such as around the eye or face, ask about the possibility of abuse.

How can I prevent or treat bruises?

To prevent minor bruising, eliminate household clutter that could cause bumps or falls. Long-sleeved shirts and pants can provide an extra layer of protection for your skin. Limit prolonged exposure to the sun to help you avoid its aging effects and a resulting increased risk of bruising.

Once a bruise has formed, however, not much can be done to treat it. Most bruises eventually disappear as your body reabsorbs the blood — although healing may take longer as you age. If the bruise is swollen, it might help to apply a cold compress and elevate the affected area. After the swelling decreases, a warm compress might speed removal of the blood. If the sight of a bruise bothers you, cover it with clothing or makeup.

You might not be able to eliminate easy bruising. However, taking simple steps to protect your skin and avoid injury can go a long way toward keeping you bruise-free.

May. 26, 2011 See more In-depth