Here's what it means when you bruise easily, plus when you should see a doc.

By Mallory Creveling
September 07, 2019
Getty Images/Siri Stafford

Everyone gets a few black-and-blue bruises every now and then—a scrape here, a bump there, a run-in-with-your-desk everywhere. But if you're waking up more mornings than not asking yourself 'why do I bruise so easily?', you're probably wondering what it means or if there's something more serious going on with your health. (Related: The 5 Exercises Most Likely to Cause Injury)

First, don't panic. Next, read what you need to know about bruising easily:

What's a Bruise?

Put simply, a bruise is a collection of blood underneath the skin, says Tania Elliott, M.D., a clinical instructor of medicine at NYU Langone Health. When blood leaks out of surrounding vessels, it leaves that purple-ish spot.

"When a blood vessel gets damaged, the body starts a response to try to rapidly repair it—like plugging a leaky pipe," Dr. Elliott says. "Bruising occurs when the repairs don't come quickly enough, resulting in a collection of blood outside of the vessels."

Most often, physical injury (say, wiping out on your run or banging your elbow on the table) causes damage to the blood vessel. Your body quickly tries to repair the damage, and if it's not fast enough, you'll get that black-and-blue mark. On rare occasions, you can also get a bruise from your immune system attacking blood vessels. And if your blood vessel is too fragile, it can be extra prone to leaking blood, explains Dr. Elliott.

So, What Does It Mean When You Bruise Easily?

If you're getting unexplained black-and-blues on the regular, it could be because of weakness in your capillaries, or those small, branching blood vessels throughout the body. When they're not strong enough to hold red blood cells, the blood leaks out under the skin, explains Neha Vyas, M.D., a family medicine physician at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. "[Capillaries] can be weak because there's not enough protein to hold them in place or because of problems in the layers of the vessels," she says.

You might also get bruises more often if you have issues with your platelets or those cells involved in the blood vessel healing process. Platelets are crucial for clotting (stopping a bleed), says Dr. Vyas. Certain health conditions (or the meds you take for those conditions) could also lead to coagulation problems—basically, your body can't turn the blood from a liquid to a solid fast enough to stop you from bleeding.

5 Reasons You Might Bruise Easily

1. You're taking certain medications.

If you're on a blood thinner, like Plavix or Coumadin, you might notice more black-and-blue marks. Blood-thinning medications are important because they can help decrease the chances of developing a blood clot in the heart or elsewhere in the body—those with heart conditions or who previously had a stroke likely need them to avoid a serious setback—but they also make you more prone to bruising, explains Dr. Elliott. Steroids and anti-depressants can also make you bruise more easily.

Dr. Vyas also cautions that regular aspirin use (say if you're taking it daily to reduce risk of heart attack or stroke) can lead to more bruising for reasons similar to blood thinners. While they can lower chances of blood clots, that also means your body is slower to stop a bleed.

More indirectly, meds like antibiotics can lead to low platelet counts, which then means you don't have enough of the cells necessary to help with blood clotting and stopping a bleed. Therefore, you're more prone to frequent bruising, says Dr. Elliott.

2. You could have a vitamin or mineral deficiency.

A lack of vitamin K—which could be the result of something as simple as skimping on leafy green veggies or more serious conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, or bacterial overgrowth of the gut—could lead to easy bleeding and bruising, says Dr. Elliott. While vitamin C deficiency can also cause an increase in bruising, it's uncommon in the U.S. thanks to diets filled with fruits and veggies. (Related: 16 Ways to Eat More Veggies)

Finally, if you're short on iron (or specifically have iron-deficiency anemia, a condition in which your body is short on red blood cells), you might notice more marks on the skin, says Dr. Vyas. Your body needs iron to make hemoglobin, which helps blood carry oxygen throughout the body. Symptoms of anemia can be severe fatigue, dizziness, or shortness of breath, so watch out for these and see a doctor to get your iron levels tested if you think something's up. You may just need a supplement. Women with heavy periods and those who are pregnant or breastfeeding are more prone to an iron deficiency, according to the American Society of Hematology. (Related: The Best Vegetarian Iron-Rich Foods)

3. You could have an underlying issue in your liver or kidney.

Problems with two major organs—your liver and kidneys—can cause blood abnormalities. "Any problems with the liver can mess with proteins necessary for clotting," says Dr. Vyas. Kidney disease can affect your platelets, also leading to clotting problems, and therefore, more frequent bruising. Doctors can detect a liver or kidney condition during routine blood tests, so don't be afraid to speak up if you suspect there's a problem.

4. You overindulge in alcohol.

You probably know throwing back shots or chugging beers on the regular can damage your liver. (ICYDK, your liver is the organ that processes alcohol and it can only do so much at once, so chronic alcohol use can damage liver cells.) As we just learned, your liver is super important for producing the molecules that lead to blood clotting, which means it's also crucial for preventing bruises, explains Dr. Elliott.

In addition to liver problems, alcohol abuse can also suppress the production of blood cells involved in the repair process and because a stiff drink will cause blood vessels to relax and expand, that makes the vessels more prone to breakage. So to ease up on the black-and-blues, you might want to lay off the frequent Tipsy Tuesdays or Thirsty Thursdays or excessive consumption on any day, TBH. (Related: Healthy Mocktail Recipes So Good You Won't Even Miss the Alcohol)

5. You're hardcore into exercise.

"The more physically active you are, the more likely you are to bruise or bleed," says Dr. Elliott. With exercise, you risk more forceful physical contact—whether that's a hard-hitting connection with a weight, another class goer, or the ground (clumsy in HIIT class, anyone?)—and when that impact gets powerful, it's more likely to leave a mark. Also, if you play any contact sports, your risk goes up even further. That doesn't mean you should stop moving; just stay safe in the weight room by paying attention to your surroundings and your movements, go slower if you need to, and stay extra focused when you're running on the road. If you do play a contact sport, make sure you have the proper gear, like a helmet or shoulder or knee pads.

When You Should See a Doctor About Bruising Easily

If you often find yourself wondering why you're bruising easily, you suspect you might have any of the above conditions, or you check off any of the risk factors, talk to your doctor, says Dr. Vyas. It's totally normal to knock into something without remembering the impact—again, trauma is the most common cause of a bruise—but think about how often it's happening to you or how severe the bruises look.

If you're unsure as to whether you have any of the above issues, but you still wake up with black-and-blues a lot, consider where you see the marks. It's pretty typical bruise easily on your legs or arms (you could even get bruises on your legs from foam-rolling too hard!), but when you spot bruises on your abdomen, back, or face (with no known trauma to those areas), it could signal an underlying condition, says Dr. Elliott.

Also, if you never bruised easily, but all of a sudden, bruises keep popping up out of nowhere, Dr. Elliott says it's worth seeing a doc. "If your symptoms arise out of the blue, as in, you never had issues before, and then suddenly you start bleeding easily, it's important to seek medical attention," she explains.

Finally, if you're experiencing other problems, too, like chest pain, shortness of breath, blood in your poop, bleeding gums, bloody noses, new headaches, weight loss, or fatigue, it's definitely time to book that appointment, says Dr. Elliott.

When you do get to the doc, you should get a full check of your overall health, says Dr. Vyas, including family history and health history, and then check your blood work and platelets.

Advertisement


Comments

Be the first to comment!