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Bleeding into the skin

Definition

Bleeding under the skin can occur from broken blood vessels that form tiny pinpoint 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).

Alternative Names

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

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 pale (blanch) when you press on the area. The redness of erythema decreases when you apply pressure to it and returns when release the pressure.

Common Causes

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 health care provider about stopping the drug. Otherwise, follow your prescribed therapy to treat the underlying cause of the problem.

Call your health care provider if

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 health care provider's office

The health care 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:

References

Ballas M, Kraut EH. Bleeding and bruising: a diagnostic work-up. Am Fam Physician. 2008 Apr 15;77(8):1117-24.

Coller BS, Schneiderman PI. Clinical evaluation of hemorrhagic disorders: The bleeding history and differential diagnosis of purpura. In: Hoffman R, Benz EJ, Shattil SS, et al, eds. Hematology: Basic Principles and Practice. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2008:chap 121.


Review Date: 5/1/2011
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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