Have you ever woken up in the morning, done a quick body scan, and noticed a new bruise? How about not being able to remember what the heck happened to make it appear? Welcome to the life of people who bruise easily because, yes, some people do get black-and-blues more often than others.
"Easy bruising is a common complaint," says Kathryn McElheny, M.D., a primary care sports medicine physician at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. "In one survey of 500 healthy adults, 18 percent of individuals reported easy bruising."
What does it mean if I bruise more easily?
There are a variety of reasons you might be bruising more easily than your workout BFF—everything from abnormalities that affect the blood vessels themselves and underlying bleeding disorders to medications you're taking and simply having thinner skin.
A bruise is a collection of blood beneath the skin, which is what gives it that visible, purple hue. It's a result of blood leaking from the surrounding vessels, and it fades as the body reabsorbs that blood.
Bruises rarely appear randomly. Roy Silverstein, M.D., president-elect for the American Society of Hematology, says that, for most people, there's almost always an explanation. "We experience small degrees of minor injury every day—like knocking our arm against the door as we walk through—and don't always remember it," he says. "They don't show up unprompted in healthy individuals."
To help determine what's happening with you, try to pinpoint what trauma may have caused the bruise, how often they're appearing, and what they look like, as some bruises can be more concerning than others, Dr. McElheny says. Potential causes for concern include getting five or more bruises that are larger than 1 centimeter in diameter without any known trauma, experiencing associated bleeding from other sites (like recurrent nose or gum bleeds), or having a history of abnormal lab tests that suggest a bleeding disorder. In these situations, bruising can be indicative of an underlying problem, so you might want to visit your doctor, she explains.
Still, not all bruises are a cause for concern, especially if they're not associated with other symptoms. "An occasional bruise, even if it's once or twice a month, is not a big deal for the most part," Dr. Silverstein says.
What could be causing my bruises?
Again, there could be a ton of different things causing your seemingly random bruise. If you don't remember banging into anything, and if there isn't a potential underlying health problem, the experts say there are a few common culprits for more frequent bruising.
A vitamin C deficiency
"Humans cannot manufacture large amounts of vitamin C on their own. Signs of deficiency include easy bruising, low iron levels, and bleeding gums," Taz Bhatia, M.D., integrative medicine doctor and mbg Collective member, writes on mbg. If you suspect you're not getting your daily dose of vitamin C, it's time to pay attention to the foods on your plate. Bhatia recommends upping the intake of citrus fruits including oranges, limes, lemons, and grapefruits and other fruits such as strawberries, kiwifruit, pineapple, cantaloupe, raspberries, and papaya. "When you're looking to citrus for your vitamin C, remember to use the zest and flesh, as peels contain five to 10 times more vitamins than the fruit itself," she writes.
Some supplements and medicines—like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (or NSAIDs like aspirin), blood thinners, and steroids—can increase the likelihood of bruising and bleeding because they interfere with your blood's natural ability to clot, Dr. Silverstein says. "One of the most important elements in the blood that helps prevent excess bleeding after injury are blood platelets," he explains. "[When you take] aspirin and other NSAIDs, like ibuprofen, they paralyze the platelets [so] they don't work as well, and that can cause the bleeding and bruising."
"Part of the job of the skin, and the tissues underneath the skin, is to maintain the integrity of the blood vessels and the network of fat and tissue that keeps everything in place," Dr. Silverstein says. So anything that harms the skin—like smoking or getting too much sun exposure—can ultimately make tissue more frail so they won't protect blood vessels as well, which might make you more prone to bruises.
As you get older, your skin becomes thinner and loses some of the protective fatty layer that helps cushion your blood vessels from injury and, therefore, bruising, Dr. McElheny says. And since there isn't an actual wishing well that keeps us from getting older, it's best to establish a healthy skin care routine as early as possible. You know the drill: Exfoliate, moisturize, and always, always wear sunblock.
Subjecting yourself to years of unprotected sun exposure can weaken blood vessel walls and skin tissue, which contributes to a type of bruising known as senile purpura, or purple patches that often show up on the backs of the hands and forearms. These aren't harmful to your health, but they're pretty easy to prevent. Again, make sunscreen (preferably a mineral sunscreen) your best friend.
How can I heal a bruise?
This is the time to practice patience and simply give your bruise time to heal. "There's not much you can do to make it [go away] faster," Dr. Silverstein says. "If you bang it and think there's going to be a bruise, putting ice on it can help prevent it, but otherwise, be patient and it'll heal."
To avoid bruising altogether, consider making a few adjustments around the house. "Maintain good lighting, [and] keep the stairs and walkways uncluttered to avoid falls and trauma," Dr. McElheny says. Otherwise, talk to your doctor about the potential side effects of any medications you're taking, and be good to your skin.
Samantha Lefave is a freelance fitness, health, and travel writer who loves eating, drinking, and sweating her way around the world. She received her bachelor's in journalism and creative writing from SUNY Oswego, and her work has appeared in Runner's World, Shape, Women's Health, Men's Journal, Cosmopolitan, and more. You can find Lefave on instagram, where she posts all about her favorite destinations.