Unexplained Bruising: Causes, Diabetes Connection & the Life-Cycle of a Bruise

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Unexplained Bruising
Credit: iStock.com/Sasiistock

A bruise is also known as a contusion. It is the result of blood from damaged blood cells that are deep beneath the skin and collect near the skin’s surface. But what does unexplained bruising mean? Unexplained bruising can be the result of numerous causes from aging and vitamin deficiencies to diabetes. Random bruising could be a sign of a health issue that should be checked out.

Bruising for no reason can be explained and treated. But first, we need to look at the different types of bruises and what causes them.

Types of Bruises

There are two types of bruises that you should be aware of—ecchymosis and hematoma.

1. Ecchymosis

This type of bruising is the one you are most familiar with. These bruises end up being a flat, purple-colored bruise. The bruise is caused when blood cells are damaged, and blood leaks into the top layers of the skin.

2. Hematoma

A hematoma is what you might refer to as a “goose egg.” A lot of damaged blood cells collects and clots under the skin, raising it into a lump or bump. The area tends to be swollen and painful.

A hematoma tends to be the result of a greater trauma than ecchymosis.

Unexplained Bruising Causes

What causes unexplained bruising? Now, you’ve read about what causes bruises, so it may seem a little odd that a bruise should suddenly form on its own. These unexplained bruises can be the result of many factors ranging from the simple effects of aging to the warning signs of disease.

But, the simpler explanations may surprise you. Unknown bruising is acutally the result of certain factors that can cause you to bruise easier.

1. Vitamin Deficiency

Vitamin deficiencies of various sorts can lead to unexplained bruises.

For example, vitamin C is used by the body to strengthen blood vessels. A lack of vitamin C allows weakens the blood vessels and causes the body to bruise easier.

Vitamin K is one of the nutrients that help blood to clot. When there is a lack of vitamin K, blood can pool easier and lead to bruising.

2. Aging

Aging also leads to easier bruising. The fatty layer of our skin begins to thin as we get older. This is called dermatoporosis. As a result, there is less body material to cushion a blow, so the body gets bruised easily.

3. Intensive Exercising and Weightlifting

Intense physical activities like running or lifting weights can also lead to unexplained bruises. These types of exercises can, at times, cause tears in the blood cells under the skin and lead to bruising.

4. Too Much Sun

The ultra violet rays of the sun can lead to bruises under the skin. Also, UV rays can contribute to the dermatoporosis effect in the skin.

Once that fatty layer has thinned, the sun can directly damage blood cells, causing bruising on the skin.

5. Medications and Supplements

Certain medications and supplements do carry with them the side effect of easier and random bruising.

Medications like aspirin, blood thinners, antibiotics, and anticoagulants can affect the blood cells by making them easier to traumatize, leading to bruising.

Supplements like ginkgo biloba, ginger, turmeric, and St. John’s Wort also carry similar blood thinning issues.

6. Hereditary Conditions and Bleeding Disorders

There are some hereditary conditions and bleeding disorders that can cause issues with bruising.

Hemophilia A and hemophilia B are hereditary conditions that cause blood not to clot as easy or as much as other people. As a result, hemophilia sufferers bleed longer and bruise easier.

Von Willebrand disease is a bleeding disorder similar to hemophilia as it also causes the body to be unable to make one of the proteins that are a key part of the blood-clotting process. So, this makes it easier for the body to bruise.

7. Cancer

Cancer can cause unexplained bruising in two different ways. The first is that the disease itself may cause the bruise.

An unexplained bruise on the breast that doesn’t disappear may be one of the first signs of inflammatory breast cancer. Also, leukemia can often be accompanied by unexplained bruising and bleeding.

Some cancer treatments can lead to easy bruising on the body. Chemotherapy, for example, can cause changes to the blood platelets, making them easier to strain and break, causing bruising.

8. Kidney Disease

Late-stage kidney disease often has unexplained or easy bruising as a side effect, but not necessarily due to the disease itself. While kidney disease can cause changes in the blood cells that can cause easy bruising, many of the other medical issues, medications, and treatments that you have to take for the disease can also cause issues with the blood and bruising.

Anticoagulants used for dialysis, as well as the anemia caused by kidney disease, can cause low platelet production. Other medications can cause excess capillary fragility and decreased platelets, all of which can lead to unexplained bruising.

9. Liver Disease

The liver is an organ that helps the body create many chemicals that are involved in clotting. If the liver is affected by a disease, it can impact the production of those chemicals and influence blood clotting, allowing the body to bruise easier.

10. Autoimmune Diseases

There are a few autoimmune diseases that can, in some way, make it easier for the body to bruise. Medications that are used for rheumatoid arthritis can often lead to unexplained bruises.

Lupus is a chronic inflammatory disease where the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues and organs. It can cause excessive bleeding which leads to easy bruising.

Vasculitis is an autoimmune disease that causes the inflammation of the blood vessels themselves. This inflammation’s natural side effect is unexplained bruises.

11. Viral Infections

Many viral infections can cause thrombocytopenia. Thrombocytopenia is a condition that affects blood clotting and can be caused by chickenpox, rubella, and mumps.

Is Diabetes and Unexplained Bruising Connected?

There is a connection between diabetes and unexplained bruising. Diabetes can cause peripheral vascular disease.

Peripheral vascular disease or PVD is a disorder that can cause the blood vessels outside of your heart and brain to narrow, block, or spasm. This can lead to a decrease in blood flow, causing more strain on your blood cells and bruising for no reason, especially in the legs.

There is also the issue of acanthosis nigricans. Acanthosis nigricans is a condition that can develop in people living with diabetes (most often connected with type 2 diabetes) where there is too much insulin in the blood stream.

Excessive insulin can trigger hyper pigmentation in the areas of the body where there are natural folds of skin, such as the groin, armpits, and neck. The hyper pigmentation is usually dark in color and can look like bruising even though it is not.

Unexplained Bruising Causes in Older Adults

Unexplained bruising causes in older adults is really the culmination of numerous factors that tend to occur once you get older and begin to reach elderly status.

As noted in the previous section, the fatty layer of your skin begins to disappear as you get older, giving the blood cells underneath it less protection from various physical causes of bruising. For many people, reaching an older age also brings with it medications and medical conditions that make it easier for your body to bruise.

Diseases like cancer and diabetes, as well as other medical conditions, become more prevalent as we get older.

Also, as we get older, we tend to lose a little bit of our balance and coordination. Our gait becomes more unstable, and we bump into things a little more than we used to. When you combine this with everything mentioned above, bruises begin to be a more likely and repeated occurrence.

How Long do Bruises Last?

Depending on the severity of the trauma that has caused the bruise in the first place, the average bruise will last somewhere between two to four weeks. If a bruise lasts well past the four-week mark, it’s a good idea to seek medical advice as it may be a sign of one of the conditions mentioned.

A fresh bruise will usually appear red, blue, or purple. The red coloring is due to the fresh blood near the surface of the skin. After a few hours, the blood loses oxygen, and the bruise turns bluish in color.

As the days go by, the blood in the bruise breaks down further and should turn a purple color (and in some cases, even black). The purple and black phase usually occurs within two or three days.

As the healing stage continues, the blood in the bruise will break down further, and the hemoglobin will release a compound called biliverdin. This can cause the bruise to take on a green color or tinge.

Finally, the hemoglobin will break down and release a chemical called bilirubin, which will cause the bruise to turn yellow. The good news is that yellow is usually the final color in the healing process and usually occurs within seven to 10 days.

Unexplained Bruising Treatment

For the most part, bruises will eventually heal on their own. But if you have a something on the horizon where a bruise might be a drawback, you may want to know how to heal a bruise a little bit quicker. There are a few natural and quick ways to help the bruise disappear a bit faster than normal.

1. Cold and Hot Compresses

Using intervals of ice and heat can help ease the pain of a bruise and get the healing process started. Start with an ice pack wrapped in a towel (not directly on the skin). This can help reduce the swelling as well as the coloring of the bruise.

After 24 hours have passed, try using a heat pack to get the circulation flowing and relax the muscle area around the bruise. This can help speed up the healing process.

2. Tea Bags

Tea bags, specifically black tea bags, can help heal a bruise faster. They contain a compound called tannin. Tannins can help contract the blood vessels which in turn can help heal a bruise quicker.

Apply a warm, wet tea bag to the bruise two or three times a day for best results.

3. Comfrey

Native to Europe and Asia, comfrey is a type of shrub that contains allantoin, a chemical that helps skin cells grow and can help speed up the healing process. It can be used as part of an ointment like the one described below.

Ingredients:

  • 1 ounce dried of comfrey leaves (or 2 ounces of fresh leaves) finely chopped
  • 10 ounces of olive oil
  • 1 ounce of grated beeswax

Directions

Add the olive oil to a pan and drop in the comfrey leaves. Allow the mixture to simmer for approximately 30 minutes.

Take the mixture and pour it into a muslin bag and squeeze it into a pan. Add the beeswax to the mixture and stir over low heat until the beeswax melts.

Pour the contents into a sealable jar. Once the mixture is cool, tighten the lid and place into the fridge until needed.

Vitamin K cream or ointment may also be able to help in healing a bruise quicker.

Treating Bruising with Essential Oils

Another method of treating an unexpected bruise is using essential oils. Many essential oils are used to treat various injuries and maladies. But, there are a couple of essential oils that work particularly well with bruises.

1. Chamomile Essential Oil

Chamomile essential oil, and Roman chamomile, in particular, is often used for its anti-inflammatory properties. This essential oil can help reduce swelling and increase blood circulation, which can help the bruise heal faster.

Mix a few drops of chamomile essential oil with a carrier oil like almond or coconut oil. Massage the mixture carefully into the bruised area (not too hard or you will cause further damage in the bruise). Repeat this two or three times a day until the bruise has healed.

2. Helichrysum Essential Oil

Helichrysum essential oil contains a chemical compound called italidione. It is known for being able to keep blood inside a blood vessel, even after an injury has occurred. This makes helichrysum essential oil great for dealing with bruises.

Take a few drops of helichrysum essential oil and mix it with a tablespoon of a carrier oil like coconut or almond oil. Massage the oil into the bruised area (again, not too hard).

This essential oil mixture works rather well if it is applied right after a round of ice or cold therapy.

Bruises Are Rarely Something to Worry About

Bruises happen to all of us, and there is no way to avoid them. It’s just a part of being a human being.

Unfortunately, as we get older, getting unexplained bruises becomes more of a fact of life due to skin changes and medications. And yes, getting older also means that we will be a little more prone to injury.

For the most part, a bruise will heal on its own within two to four weeks. If they do not, the bruise might be the underlying sign of a larger health issue. So, if the bruise is still there well after four weeks, it’s recommended that you seek medical attention.

Related Articles:

How Long Do Bruises Last?

Bruising of Legs: Causes, Remedies, and Prevention

Bruised Elbow (Elbow Contusion) Symptoms and Treatment Tips

What Are These Tiny Red Spots on My Skin (Petechiae)?

Bleeding Diathesis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments


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Up until the end of 2016, Brent Chittenden had been a freelance researcher and writer, writing about everything from entertainment—including pro wrestling and stand-up comedy—to health and nutrition, to culture and lifestyle. In 2017, he joined the Doctors Health Press full time and couldn’t be happier about it. With a graduate certificate in Radio and Broadcasting, Brent brings extensive experience as a communicator and researcher, adding to the many talented health authorities and professionals on whose expertise Doctors Health Press... Read Full Bio »