Ever wake up with a bruise and have absolutely no idea where it came from? This seemingly strange occurrence is actually pretty common and has happened to most of us at one point or another. Bruises form when blood vessels beneath the skin rupture and the blood leaks into the surrounding area. Usually, this is caused by some form of trauma like falling, bumping into a door, or experiencing a blow while playing sports.
But if you’ve noticed a lot of bruises popping up in the absence of significant trauma, you may be bruising easily, which can happen for a number of reasons. Here are some of the most common.
Various medicines make people more sensitive to bruising. According to Dr. Anthony Kouri—an orthopedic surgeon at Johns Hopkins—aspirin and other blood thinners such as warfarin, heparin, rivaroxaban, and dabigatran interfere with blood clotting and can lead you to bruise easily (as can herbal supplements like ginkgo biloba and ginseng). Additionally, steroids like prednisone and hydrocortisone can thin your skin and may lead you to bruise easily. If you’re concerned that your medications are contributing to bruising, it’s a good idea to speak with your doctor. But don’t stop taking any medications for this reason unless your physician advises you to do so.
It’s normal to bruise more easily as you get older, given that your skin will thin and lose elasticity. The fatty layer that provides some protection against bruising also thins with aging.
“The blood vessels near the skin surface are less protected from bumps and are more likely to get injured and form a bruise,” says Dr. Michelle Lee, a Los Angeles-based, board certified plastic surgeon. Most often, these bruises will be on the hands, legs, forearms, and feet.
Lee says one of the most common reasons people bruise easily is the food they eat. We’re not talking about junk food here, either. “Healthy food such as garlic, ginger, ginkgo, green tea, salmon, and turmeric all can thin the blood and make you more prone to bruising,” Lee says. “This is the reason why I ask all of my patients to stop eating these foods two to three weeks before surgery to decrease the risk of bruising.”
Sometimes bruising occurs due to vitamin deficiencies. Vitamin C is essential to healing and collagen formation, and when you’re not getting enough of it, you may start to bruise easily.
“Weak collagen causes the blood vessel walls to break more easily, causing easy bruising,” Kouri says. Vitamin K plays an important role in blood clotting, so a vitamin K deficiency can also contribute to bruising. Among all the issues that cause people to bruise easily, this one isn’t all that common. Kouri says vitamin K deficiency is rare in adults and more common among infants. That said, it’s still important to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet containing plenty of vitamin C, vitamin K, and other important nutrients.
A number of different genetic disorders might affect blood clotting and lead you to bruise more easily than usual, Kouri explains, adding that these blood disorders can also cause serious internal bleeding. Typically, people with bleeding disorders will experience other symptoms in addition to bruising, such as nosebleeds and bleeding from the gums.
One of the most common bleeding disorders is Von Willebrand Disease, which affects about one percent of the population. For people with Von Willebrand Disease, the Von Willebrand protein, which is important for blood clotting, is either missing or defective. Another bleeding disease that sometimes contributes to bruising is hemophilia.
Low Platelet Count
Platelets are small blood cells that join together to form blood clots and help your body minimize bleeding after an injury or trauma. If your platelet count is low or your platelets aren't working properly, you may bruise easily, Ali explains. Doctors can check your platelet levels using a simple blood test.
Notice that your parents and siblings bruise easily, too? Sometimes a tendency to bruise runs in families, and women tend to bruise more easily than men. Fair skin can also make bruises more obvious. For most people in this situation who don't have any other symptoms, bruising easily isn’t problematic or tied to any serious health issues.
Sometimes bruises seem to appear out of nowhere after weightlifting or any another intense workout. Bruising after a workout may be caused by tears in your blood vessels. If you frequently experience bruising after intense workouts, you may want to dial down the intensity or give yourself a bit more recovery time than usual and see if the post-workout bruising subsides.
Too Much Time in the Sun
Too much sun exposure can damage and weaken your skin, as well as weaken the walls of your blood vessels, leaving you more susceptible to bruising. These bruises from sun damage usually don’t cause any pain or soreness.
Among the more serious causes of bruising is leukemia—a cancer of the blood cells. Typically, platelets help your body minimize bleeding, but you’ll be more susceptible to bruising if your platelet count is low due to leukemia. Only a doctor can diagnose leukemia, so set up an appointment if you have concerns.
Liver disease is another serious health issue (that can only be diagnosed by a doctor) that can lead you to bruise easily. The liver produces important proteins that help our bodies minimize bleeding, so if you’re experiencing health problems with your liver, you may bruise more easily than usual.
“Any disruption of the normal liver function lowers these protein levels,” says Dr. Ehsan Ali, a Los Angeles-based board certified physician.
Sometimes bruising is nothing to worry about, but other times it’s a sign that something is going on in your body. If you’ve been bruising more than usual and have any concerns about your health, it’s always a good idea to speak with your physician. They’re the experts in figuring out what’s happening in your body and know what signs to look for to determine if your bruising is fairly normal or something to be worried about.