Why do you bruise?
Bruising normally occurs when the tiny blood vessels under the surface of your skin are ruptured, usually by physical trauma or strain. Blood from the damaged blood cells collects under your skin resulting in discolouration, giving your bruise it’s atypical ‘black and blue’ appearance.
Fortunately, in most cases, bruises are usually caused by minor injuries – stubbing your toe, knocking your knee against a table etc., but occasionally you may notice bruises appearing on your skin and have no memory of how they originated.
Most of the time this can be brushed off as forgetfulness but nevertheless, some people are more susceptible to bruising than others – but why?
1. Your age
This is probably the most common and obvious reason as to why you are sporadically erupting in pink and purple contusions.
It’s unfortunate but it is a fact that as we age, certain changes do start take place within our body – our hair can fluctuate in colour, becoming weaker and more brittle; our bones start to lose their density and yes, we may start to notice the odd wrinkle appearing in the mirror. This is probably familiar to most of you and certainly won’t fill you with any enthusiasm but what you might be less aware of is the changes taking place when it comes to your skin.
Naturally, as you get older, your production of collagen will start to decrease. This is particularly important when you consider bruising, as collagen is an essential protein when it comes to your skin, keeping your dermis (the layer of skin under your epidermis) strong and supporting the growth of new skin cells.
When your production of collagen begins to decrease, your skin can become weaker and lose its elasticity, eventually leading to the formation of wrinkles. With your skin becoming frail and more penetrable, bruising will become inevitable as the rest of your body is now more vulnerable and less protected from physical trauma.
2. Your diet
Your age isn’t the only factor exposing you to bruising – surprisingly, your diet can also play a major role as well! This is usually due to your capillaries – those tiny blood vessels that are susceptible to rupturing under physical trauma.
If your blood vessels are weak or fragile then it only makes sense that bruising will be a more commonplace occurrence – but how does this factor in to your diet? Well some would argue that low levels of vitamin C can make your capillaries weaker.
This seems logical when you think about the role of vitamin C in your body: vitamin C helps to support your blood vessels and has even been linked to the synthesis of collagen.
The University of Michigan Health System certainly seems to share this opinion, stating that, "even minor deficiencies of vitamin C and possibly of flavonoids can lead to increased bruising. People who bruise easily may benefit from eating more fruits and vegetables, common sources of vitamin C and flavonoids.1”
There is even some research to support this idea as it was noted by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that some subjects with low levels of vitamin C appeared to notice lowered levels of bruising after they had upped their intake of this vital nutrient.2
3. Your weight
This topic might seem to collude nicely with your diet and nutrition but the fact is that when you are obese or overweight, the ramifications for your health can be disastrous.
First let’s take a look at your blood pressure – hypertension is a real problem for those that are overweight. A diet that is chockfull of sugary snacks and refined fats is bound to send your blood pressure spiralling, which can have consequences for your blood vessels.
When blood is being pumped through the body too quickly or erratically, your blood vessels will eventually weaken, making them more susceptible to rupturing under force. An enlarged body mass can also place a strain on your blood vessels as well as other areas of your body, such as your circulatory system, which will struggle to keep up with your increasing demands.
4. Your alcohol consumption
Yes, booze can make you bruise more easily and not for the reasons you may be thinking. Yes, an unhappy collision with your neighbour’s dustbins or having a brawl with your now ex-best friend will certainly earn you some shiners in the morning but it’s not just a lack of judgement or coordination that alcohol is responsible for.
A persistent intake of alcohol can lower your levels of vitamin C which, as we have already discussed, is crucial for the health of your skin and blood vessels. Alcohol also carries an additional risk as it is known to be a ‘blood-thinner.’
Typical blood-thinners are usually types of medication prescribed to delay or prevent a blood clot – they work as their name might suggest, by thinning your blood and stopping your blood cells from sticking together. In the case of bruising, if your blood is unable to clot bruises will appear more easily and possibly take longer to heal.
5. Your medication
As we have mentioned, alcohol is a notable blood-thinner but quite possibly you are already thinning your blood in another form. When it comes to medication, there are two prominent types of blood-thinners; anticoagulant medicines and antiplatelet medicines.
Anticoagulants like warfarin and heparin are used to prevent blood clots – if you are on these types of medications, the chances are that your doctor has already explained the possible side-effects to you at length. However, what you may be unaware of is that over-the-counter aspirin is also a type of blood-thinner, working as an antiplatelet.
If you have any concerns about the medication that you have been prescribed, it is crucial that you speak to your GP as soon as possible.
6. Your levels of sun damage
When you think of sun-damaged skin, the image that pops into your head is likely angry red skin flaking down an unfortunate holidaymaker’s back.
Bruising is not a part of this picture and while it is true the immediate symptoms of sunburn need little explaining, the long-term repercussions are more insidious. If you are continually exposing your skin to the sun, not only are you risking skin cancer, you can also dramatically weaken your epidermal and dermal layers of skin.
If your skin is fragile and brittle, the tiny capillaries lurking just beneath the surface become more exposed to physical trauma and therefore burst easily when they come into contact with physical force, resulting in painful bruising and an increased recovery time.
7. Your genes
Finally, let’s talk about your genes. It’s no secret that what you inherit from your ancestors is responsible for almost every reaction that takes place within your body and bruising is no exception. For a start, your genes can determine your gender and unfortunately for women, this can matter when it comes to how easily you bruise.
Women do bruise a lot more easily than men because the structure of their blood vessels and the thickness of their skin are far different than that of a man. Women do not produce as much collagen and generally have a thinner epidermis, making them more susceptible to bruising.
Another factor you can thank your parents for is the colour of your hair. Interestingly enough though, research does suggest that individuals with red hair are more prone to bruising that those with dark brown or black hair – the evidence behind this is still inconclusive, especially since the study reported that “coagulation factor and platelet function test results were comparable in red-haired and dark-haired women,” suggesting that the underlying reason is still waiting to be discovered.3
What you can do to help
The first thing you should do if you notice any unexplained bruises or contusions is consult your doctor. Although it’s unlikely, unexplained bruising has been linked to a number of more serious medical conditions, such as thrombocytopenia or even cancer!
If you have ascertained that your bruising is being caused by something minor or treatable, we’d recommend applying a cold compress to the affected area as soon as possible.
This should reduce any swelling and decrease blood flow to the area, curtailing any discolouration. You could also try keeping the affected area elevated as well – this will help to stop blood from pooling around your bruise, again easing any discolouration.
Once you have applied a cold compress and allowed time to benefit from the effects (usually 24 hours later) you could try applying some heat to improve your circulation. A warm compress or heating pad should do the trick!