Purpura: What Purple Splotches on Your Skin Might Mean

10 Things Your Skin Says About Your Health: Page 7

By , Caring.com senior editor
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What it means: What looks a bit like a bruise, is often mistaken for a bruise, but tends to hang around longer because it's not exactly a bruise? Purpura (from the Latin for "purple"), or leaking blood vessels under the skin. It has several possible causes, ranging from a bleeding disorder to scurvy (vitamin C deficiency). But in adults over age 65, in whom it's common, the main explanation is thin skin, often made even more fragile by years of sun damage and weakened blood vessels. Then the condition is known by the unfortunate name of senile purpura.

"A substantial excessive intake of aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, vitamin E, or ginkgo biloba, which older adults often take to boost memory, can worsen the condition," says dermatoligst Newburger. So can blood thinners, such as coumadin, alcohol, and steroids.

More clues: A classic bruise tends to turn black and blue following an injury. With purpura, in contrast, there doesn't need to be any trauma; the discoloration starts as red and turns purple, persisting longer than a bruise before fading or remaining brownish. The purple skin doesn't blanch (fade or lose color) when you press it. Purpura can cover large patches of skin or show up as small purple speckles called petechiae. No matter what the size, the purple areas are most common on the forearms, legs, and backs of the hands.

What to do: Extensive or persistent bruises should always be evaluated by a doctor, as should someone who seems to bruise easily. It's important to rule out underlying causes such as a bleeding disorder.