Are you just a klutz, or are those purple patches a sign of something else?
Have you ever found yourself staring at your arm or leg, racking your brain trying to figure out how the hell you got that massive bruise?
Bruising is caused when blood vessels under the skin are damaged, which typically occurs when you bump into something, causing the blood vessels in that particular area to break, causing blood to pool. This blood seeps from the second layer of skin (dermis) and collects in the first layer of skin (epidermis), creating that all-too-familiar purplish-blue hue many of us have seen staring back at us after a night of drunken clumsiness or a run-in with the pointy edge of a table.
But why do some people tend to bruise easily and other’s don’t? There can be a number of different factors affecting why you turn black and blue more than your friends, like…
Certain medications that have an effect on how the blood operates in the body can impact how easily you bruise. Anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and aspirin affect your blood’s ability to clot and plug broken blood vessels, so more blood gets out and between the skin layers, causing bigger and more frequent bruises.
Birth control can also affect if you bruise easily, as can anabolic steroids and steroids for allergies and inflammation.
“Steroids also negatively affect the strength and health of your blood vessels,” says clinical professor of medicine Dr Steven Lamm.
“Easier bruisability is one of the well-known symptoms of being on steroids.”
People who have certain vitamin deficiencies bruise more easily than others – particularly vitamin C and D deficiencies.
“Being vitamin C deficient affects the strength of your blood vessels,” Lamm says.
“This is why people with scurvy would get black and blue marks all over their body.”
As well as not having enough of these important vitamins, people who don’t eat enough protein also bruise easily, because it can affect the strength of the collagen in the skin and blood vessels. Collagen is responsible for making your skin strong, so the more collagen you have, the less likely you are to bruise.
As you age, you lose fat and collagen under the top layer of skin, and the collagen you do have isn’t as healthy as when you were younger. This means you have less protection for your blood vessels, and as a result, will bruise easily.
Older people also tend to need to take more blood-thinning medications, which further increases their risk of easy bruising.
Dr Lamm says that some people — around 18 per cent of the population — bruise more easily than the average person because of their genetic characteristics, like more fragile blood vessels, lower platelet count or clotting issues. This affects how the body responds to impact, which causes bruises. As well as this, people with fair skin tend to bruise easily.
“There isn’t a study that scientifically proves why this happens. They may have more fragile blood vessels, but it’s not just because bruises are more visible with their skin as opposed to people with darker skin,” explains Lamm.
Not taking care of yourself
Bruises tend to form easier in places that have sustained sun damage, and so shying away from sunscreen and protection can result in more bruises later. The sun thins and weakens the skin, which makes it harder to protect the blood vessels. As well as sun damage, drinking too much alcohol can thin the blood and increase your chances of bruising, which is why doctors advise you to avoid drinking after surgery.
“Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can affect your liver, bone marrow, and spleen, which all play a role in your body’s production of working platelets, how many platelets are circulating throughout your bloodstream, and the clotting process,” says Lamm.
Not to mention alcohol makes it lot easier to stumble into things…
If constant bruising is something new for you, get to the doctors as soon as possible, because it could be a sign of a more serious medical condition. Dr Lamm says to keep an eye out for abnormal bruising that happens along with constant nosebleeds, bleeding gums, or blood in your poo.
“If this happens consistently, it could be a sign of a blood disorder,” he warns.
Other illnesses that cause bruising are ones that lower the blood platelet count, such as leukemia and idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP). If you have lots of unexplainable bruises, or ones in places where it’s difficult to get them, definitely go see a doctor.
But if you’re not totally freaked out about it, it’s probably a totally normal bruise which can be encouraged to heal by applying ice to the injured area, keeping the injury elevated, and keeping your body generally healthy.
Now, go forth and avoid kicking your shin on the coffee table.
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Comment: Do you bruise easily? What’s your go-to bruising treatment?