What is a bruise?

A bruise is an injury that causes bleeding under the skin that becomes an area of discolored skin. Another word for bruise is contusion.

What is the cause?

A bruise is caused by a break in the small blood vessels under your skin. Blood pools under your skin and causes your skin to look a different color. Bruises often result from an injury, like when you fall or get hit by something.

There are things that may make you bruise more easily, such as medicines or supplements, a lack of certain vitamins, some medical conditions or a blood-clotting problem. Older adults bruise more easily because their blood vessels are more fragile and their skin thins with age.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include pain, swelling, and discolored skin. Bruises can be very small or very large. Some bruises may cause only a little tenderness, but deep bruises of muscles can be painful. Bruises are usually blue, dark red, or purple at first and then slowly fade over a couple of weeks to shades of brown, yellow, and green.

How are they treated?

Most of the time you don’t need to see your healthcare provider for treatment. Your body will repair the bruised area and your skin will return to a normal color.

Some bruises can be a sign of a more serious injury or illness, such as:

  • Bruises on the abdomen, chest, or lower back
  • Bruising around both eyes after injury to the head
  • Bruises that are very swollen and painful
  • Bruises that appear for no reason or large bruises following only minor bumps or injuries

See your healthcare provider for these types of bruises to make sure they are not symptoms of a serious problem.

How can I take care of myself?

To keep swelling down and help relieve pain for the first few days after an injury:

  • Rest the part of your body that is bruised if it is painful.
  • Put an ice pack, cold gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth on the bruised area every 3 to 4 hours for up to 20 minutes at a time for the first day or two after the injury.
  • Lightly wrap the bruised area with an elastic bandage (Ace wrap) or soft cloth if it is swollen.
  • Keep your bruised arm or leg up on pillows when you sit or lie down.
  • Take nonprescription pain medicine, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, you should not take these medicines for more than 10 days.
    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age.
    • Acetaminophen may cause liver damage or other problems. Unless recommended by your provider, don’t take more than 3000 milligrams (mg) in 24 hours. To make sure you don’t take too much, check other medicines you take to see if they also contain acetaminophen. Ask your provider if you need to avoid drinking alcohol while taking this medicine.
  • Don’t massage the bruised area.
  • After 2 to 3 days, if the swelling is gone, moist heat may help relieve pain, relax your muscles, and make it easier to move. Put moist heat on the sore area for up to 30 minutes to relieve pain. Moist heat includes heat patches or moist heating pads that you can buy at most drugstores, a warm wet washcloth, or a hot shower. To prevent burns to your skin, follow directions on the package and do not lie on any type of hot pad.

    Don’t use heat on the bruise for the first 2 to 3 days. Heat may make bruising and swelling worse.

Most bruises go away in a couple weeks. Severe bruises cause deep tissue damage and may take several weeks to heal.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-10-21
Last reviewed: 2014-06-02
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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