Unexplained Bruises: When You Don’t Know You’re Hurting

I remember an encounter with one of my nephews a few years ago, when I was called to pick him up early from phys ed class; the teacher who called me up told me he was in some kind of trouble. I got to the gym fifteen minutes before the final bell, and was informed that he was waiting at the school clinic. The first thing I noticed when I saw my nephew was a big splotch of discolored skin on his right upper arm – a bruise the size of a grapefruit – and it looked very bad. Apparently, his substitute coach had noticed, and thought he had injured himself sometime during the session.

Naturally, I asked what happened. Being a bit paranoid at the time, I jumped from theory to theory, even asking him if he had gotten in a fight with a classmate, but he swore he didn’t know what happened, and that he only noticed the bruise when was removing his hoodie for phys ed. He also said he didn’t panic, because he had experienced unexplained bruising before, and didn’t think it was something to be worried about.

I like to think that my reaction was quite normal; after all, bruises can be an ugly sight. Thankfully, I did some research on what caused the bruising and found out quite a bit.

A bruise is a small leak of blood created in tissue when blood escapes from a vessel. This usually happens after an injury, but unexplained bruising can also be caused by several factors, such as weakened blood vessels, malnutrition, or intake of certain medicines. In less common, but real cases, unexplained bruising can be caused by bleeding disorders. Bruises usually last a week or two, but larger ones can last for a few months before the body is able to reabsorb the blood completely. As this process takes place, the bruise can be observed to change colors from purple and green, to blue, then eventually, yellowish and brownish shades before it heals completely. While most bruises are harmless however, they are cosmetically unattractive, and larger pools of blood under the skin – called hematomas – do pose a risk of infection due to the eventual death and decomposition of red and white blood cells (blood is also living tissue).

Fortunately, my nephew’s bruise faded away within two weeks’ time.

The doctor I had called to check on my nephew diagnosed him with mild vitamin K deficiency, which prolonged coagulation time, and made him more susceptible to bruising, even if he didn’t notice any excessive physical force. He instructed my nephew to follow the standard protocol when dealing with physical injury: get adequate rest, apply ice and cold compression on the bruise to reduce blood flow in case the blood vessels beneath were still damaged. He also said that I had to deal with my nephew’s vitamin deficiency with supplements and a proper diet. Despite how it seemed to me at the time, the doctor had told me that things could have been worse.

Unexplained bruising is mostly caused by unnoticed physical trauma; though blood-thinning drugs – most notoriously aspirin – can also make it easier for bruises to form. However, it can also be a sign of darker problems such as anemia, hemophilia, leukemia, or HIV. Just like all other things medical, it is ill-advised to diagnose things yourself; it is very possible to overreact to symptoms, and just as easy to underreact. ALWAYS seek a professional for a diagnosis.

As for me, I’m just glad what happened is over with, and even happier to have learned a thing or two on the matter.