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Bleeding into the skin

Bleeding into the skin can occur from broken blood vessels that form tiny red dots (called petechiae). Blood also can collect under the tissue in larger flat areas (called purpura), or in a very large bruised area (called an ecchymosis).

Considerations

Aside from the common bruise, bleeding into the skin or mucous membranes is a very significant sign and should always be checked out by a health care provider.

Redness of the skin (erythema) should not be mistaken for bleeding. Areas of bleeding under the skin do not become paler (blanch) when you press on the area, like the redness from erythema does.

Causes

Many things can cause bleeding under the skin. Some of them are:

Home Care

Protect aging skin. Avoid trauma such as bumping or pulling on skin areas. For a cut or scrape, use direct pressure to stop the bleeding.

If you have a drug reaction, ask your provider about stopping the drug. Otherwise, follow your prescribed therapy to treat the underlying cause of the problem.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Contact your health care provider if:

  • You have sudden bleeding into the skin for no apparent reason
  • You notice unexplained bruising that does not go away

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Your provider will examine you and ask questions about the bleeding, such as:

  • Have you recently had an injury or accident?
  • Have you been ill lately?
  • Have you had radiation therapy or chemotherapy?
  • What other medical treatments have you had?
  • Do you take aspirin more than once a week?
  • Do you take Coumadin, heparin, or other "blood thinners" (anticoagulants)?
  • Has the bleeding occurred repeatedly?
  • Have you always had a tendency to bleed into the skin?
  • Did the bleeding start in infancy (for example, with circumcision)?
  • Did it start with surgery or when you had a tooth pulled?

The following diagnostic tests may be performed:

Alternative Names

Ecchymoses; Skin spots - red; Pinpoint red spots on the skin; Petechiae; Purpura

Images

References

Schafer AI. Approach to the patient with bleeding and thrombosis. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 171.

Weber DJ, Cohen MS, Rutala WA. The acutely ill patient with fever and rash. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases, Updated Edition. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 57.

Review Date 5/14/2017

Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.