When you think of bruising easily, your first thought might be Natasha Bedingfield’s Noughties ballad (undoubtedly a classic).
But what about the science behind it all? Some people bruise like a peach and can find themselves with blemishes after just brushing past a table, others can come out of a pretty nasty fall with no marks at all.
Dr Clare Morrison, medical adviser at MedExpress, says: “It’s quite common for patients to complain of bruising easily, particularly in women, and older people, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that there is anything wrong.”
So why do some people bruise more easily than others? Here are some explanations.
First things first: What are bruises? They’re the result of the blood vessels under the skin breaking or bursting. The blood leaks into the soft tissue of your skin, which is where the angry red colour comes from. Luckily, it fades to yellow and green colours over time.
Morrison says: “It’s often caused by medications, such as blood thinners, aspirin, steroids, or anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen.”
Blood thinners and anti-inflammatories affect how your platelets work – a part of the blood that helps it clot and stop flowing. Therefore if your blood capillaries burst, it might take a bit longer for the internal bleeding to stop, resulting in a bigger looking bruise.
Your lifestyle can also affect how easily you bruise. Morrison says: “It can be seen after intense exercise, with heavy drinking, or with sun damage (particularly on the backs of hands).”
Let’s break this down – why would these seemingly unrelated factors contribute to bruising? Well, hardcore exercise can weaken your muscles and blood vessels, making it easier for them to burst. It also doesn’t help that if you’re running or cycling you’re more likely to accidentally bash your legs against some equipment.
If you’ve damaged your liver through heavy drinking, there are likely to be fewer platelets in your blood – which has the same effect on bruising as if you were taking blood thinners. And finally, sun damage can weaken blood vessel walls, making it more likely for them to burst.
Morrison explains: “A lack of certain vitamins can cause easy bruising, notably vitamins C, K, and B12; and also folic acid.”
Vitamins like K help the blood coagulate, so it makes sense that it would affect bruising. Luckily, these things are easily fixed. “It’s worth checking your diet, or taking a multivitamin,” Morrison says.
However, there are also some deeper underlying medical issues that can make you more susceptible to bruising. Morrison says: “Some inherited clotting disorders such as haemophilia or Von Willebrand’s [disease] can also cause easy bruising from a young age. These people will probably also have problems with excessive bleeding, and may have affected relatives.”
Bruising is often linked to the amount of platelets in your blood. The condition of not having enough is called thrombocytopenia, and Morrison says: “This can happen temporarily after a viral illness, with certain medications or during pregnancy. Sometimes it’s more serious and needs medical treatment.”
She also says that some types of cancer (such as leukaemia, which affects your blood) can also contribute. Morrison adds: “Rare medical conditions such as Cushings syndrome can cause easy bruising. This is due to too much cortisol (natural steroid) in the body.”
Older people tend to bruise more easily than their younger counterparts. The science behind this is pretty simple – as you get older, your skin and the blood vessels underneath become increasingly fragile and burst more easily.
Morrison says: “If in doubt, see your GP for a check-up. They can examine you and arrange for blood tests if necessary, to rule out anything serious.”