Age increases body's tendency to bruise easily

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Are you experiencing easy bruising? Wondering what's causing the problem and what you can do about it? Easy bruising is common with age. Although most bruises are harmless and go away, easy bruising can sometimes be a sign of a more serious problem.

Q: Why is easy bruising so common in older adults?

A: 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 re-absorbs the blood, and the mark disappears. Some people, especially women, are more prone to bruising than 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.

Q: Is it true that some medications and supplements contribute to easy bruising?

A: Absolutely. 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, allowing enough blood to leak out and cause a bruise. Certain dietary supplements can also increase your bruising risk due to a blood-thinning effect.

Arnica montana, a homeopathic medicine used for moderate aches and pains, and pineapple seem to decrease bruising for some prior to surgery.

Q: How do I know if my easy bruising indicates a more serious problem?

A: You should 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
  • You have easy bruising and a history of significant bleeding
  • You suddenly begin bruising, especially if you've started a new medication
  • You 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. Some studies have shown quicker resolution with a Vitamin K cream.

Q: Is there anything I can do once I have a bruise?

A: Once a bruise has formed, not much can be done to treat it.

Most bruises eventually heal on their own, although the process might take longer as you age. It could help to elevate the affected area and apply ice. If the sight of a bruise bothers you, consider covering it with makeup.

Q: How do I know if I should seek medical advice?

A: Here are a few symptoms to see a doctor about:

  • If the bruise is accompanied by swelling and extreme pain, especially if you take a blood-thinning medication for a medical condition
  • If bruising occurs easily or for no apparent reason
  • If the bruise is painful and under a toenail or fingernail
  • If a bruise does not improve within two weeks or fails to completely clear after three or four weeks

Dr. Oswald Lightsey Mikell is the owner of Dermatology Associates of the Lowcountry.

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