Teach Me

Why Do Some People Bruise More Than Others?

When you’re playing a game of basketball, elbows get thrown, people get boxed out and the charges are taken. You go home a little worse for wear but smiling from the love of the game. So, when you show up for a rematch the next day, how come you have more souvenirs from the last game than the other team? Did they play dirtier than you? Ok, probably… But there’s a chance you may bruise easier too.

It’s a common complaint that’s made by all kinds of people – man, woman and child. To answer this age-old question, we called Joseph Torkildson, MD, a pediatric hematologist and oncologist at Banner Health in Arizona. He deals with bruises on a daily basis. We started the conversation at square one.

What is a bruise, technically speaking?

Sometimes we know how we got a bruise. Other times bruising occurs and we have to time travel over the last few days to guess when it happened. Dr. Torkildson gave a detailed description of what causes a bruise to appear. “Most of the time, blood vessels break because of trauma, we injure our skin in some way and we damage blood vessels. Bruising is a discoloration of the skin caused by leakage of blood from the small blood vessels in the skin into the surrounding tissue.”

Is it true that women bruise more easily than men?

Everyone is different and just because some women bruise easily, does not mean they all do. However, Dr. Torkildson gave a reason why dermatologists agree that women tend to bruise more easily. “This is felt to be due to women’s skin having more fat and less collagen. Collagen forms a network of fibers in the skin that hold it together like a net. The collagen supports blood vessels, so they are more protected from injury. The dense collagen layer is thicker in men and the blood vessels are held more securely, which makes them less likely to break with injury.”

My child seems to always have a few bruises. Should I be concerned?

When’s the last time you played Red Rover? Do you fall off the monkey bars, are your feet as far from the ground as you are tall? Dr. Torkildson comforted parents, reminding them that “children tend to be more active, more impulsive, and perhaps more clumsy depending on their age, and therefore more likely to develop bruises, especially on their arms and legs.”

No matter how virtual our lifestyles get, bruises and scraped knees will always be a sign of active, happy kids. However, Dr. Torkildson gave a few indicators that parents can watch for when treating their kids’ ouchies. If your kiddo is showing any of these signs, make an appointment with their pediatrician to see if there might be a deeper issue to address.

  • Bruises that seem out of proportion to the injury
  • Bruising that continues to grow over hours and days
  • Nosebleeds that persist for 15+ minutes despite consistent pressure held on the nose
  • Bleeding gums while brushing teeth
  • Blood in urine or bowel movements
  • Excessive bruising accompanied by paleness, fatigue, fever, irritability or pain in the bones
  • Unexplained bruising or random bruising

How easy is too easy?

“This is one of the hardest questions to answer,” says Dr. Torkildson. If you are quick to bruise, it’s not necessarily a problem. Refer to the indicators above. If none of those apply to you, then you likely have nothing to worry about. Dr. Torkildson mentioned medication, such as blood thinners, as another possible contributor in people who bruise easily. Some medications, even common ones like aspirin, naproxen and ibuprofen, can affect your platelet function. Your platelets are key in proper clotting, which prevents bruising and bleeding.

Is it possible to get rid of a bruise?

You got a bruise on your leg during your last hike and now you can’t wear your favorite shorts. It’s a dilemma. Unfortunately, Dr. Torkildson explained that speeding up the healing process is impossible. “Once blood is deposited in the skin, the body’s natural scavenger system comes in and cleans up the dead cells and waste material. Typically, the larger the bruise, the longer it takes to clean up. Just like we can’t make our garbage truck come by two days earlier to pick up our trash at home, we can’t make our body clean it up any more quickly!”

Do you have questions about unusual bruising on your or a loved one’s body? Contact a Banner Health physician to set up an appointment.

For related information on nosebleeds, anemia and cold intolerance, check out these other articles:

Parenting Children's Health Dermatology Women's Health