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Senior Health

Easy Bruising: Common as You Get Older

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Yet another bruise. What caused that dark, unsightly mark on your leg? You don’t recall bumping into anything. Lately, however, you seem to be bruising frequently. Is this cause for concern?

Easy bruising is common with age. Although most bruises are harmless and go away without treatment, easy bruising can sometimes be a sign of a more serious problem.

Why is easy bruising so common in older adults?

Most bruises form when small blood vessels (capillaries) near the skin’s surface are broken by the impact of a blow or injury — often on the arms or legs. When this happens, blood leaks out of the vessels and initially appears as a black-and-blue mark. Eventually your body reabsorbs the blood, and the mark disappears.

Generally, harder blows cause larger bruises. However, if you bruise easily, a minor bump — one you might not even notice — can result in a substantial bruise.

Some people — especially women — are more prone to bruising than are others. As you get older, your skin also becomes thinner and loses some of the protective fatty layer that helps cushion your blood vessels from injury.

Can medications and supplements contribute to easy bruising?

Aspirin, anticoagulant medications and anti-platelet agents reduce your blood’s ability to clot. As a result, bleeding from capillary damage might take longer than usual to stop — which allows enough blood to leak out and cause a bruise. Certain dietary supplements, such as fish oil and ginkgo, also can increase your bruising risk due to a blood-thinning effect.

Topical and systemic corticosteroids — which can be used to treat various conditions, including allergies, asthma and eczema — cause your skin to thin, making it easier to bruise.

If you experience increased bruising, don’t stop taking your medications. Consult your doctor about your concerns. Also, make sure your doctor is aware of any supplements you’re taking — especially if you’re taking them while on a blood-thinning drug. Your doctor might recommend avoiding certain over-the-counter medications or supplements.

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 frequent, large bruises, especially if your bruises appear on your trunk, back or face, or seem to develop for no known reasons

Have easy bruising and a history of significant bleeding, such as during a surgical procedure

Suddenly begin bruising, especially if you recently started a new medication

Have a family history of easy bruising or bleeding

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.

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