Overview of Bruises

A bruise is a discoloration of the skin that appears shortly after an impact injury caused by a blow or a fall, for example. Such an injury causes damage to blood vessels and subsequent bleeding into the skin. Bruises can also arise from taking certain medications that interfere with blood clotting (including aspirin), thereby causing more bleeding into the skin and tissues.

Bruises typically start out as reddish tinges, but change to black-and-blue or purplish hues before finally turning greenish-yellow as the body reabsorbs the blood. The discoloration that appears on the skin is actually blood that has settled in the area just below the skin surface or above the muscle.

Immediate Care for Bruises

Most bruises will heal by themselves in a week or so. But you can speed healing and get some pain relief with the following measures.

  • Reduce swelling. Apply an ice pack to the area as soon as possible. The cold constricts the blood vessels and thereby stops the bleeding. The more blood that collects after an injury, the more pronounced the bruise will be and the longer it will take to disappear.
  • Put the ice pack over a clean towel and place it directly on the injury site. Hold it there for about 20 minutes. Depending on the size and severity of the bruise, repeat every two or three waking hours for the first 24 to 48 hours to minimize swelling.
  • Switch to heat. After 48 hours, apply heat to the area for 15-minute increments, three times a day. A warm bath or shower, a warm washcloth, a heating pad on a low or medium setting, or a whirlpool all work well to open the surrounding blood vessels and speed up healing.
  • Minimize pain. For minor discomfort, take acetaminophen according to label directions. Avoid NSAIDs such as aspirin and ibuprofen because of their tendency to thin the blood and possibly cause additional swelling and bruising.
  • Elevate. If possible, keep the damaged area raised above the level of the heart. This will allow blood to flow away from the injured area, helping to decrease bleeding and swelling.

When to Seek Medical Help for Bruises

Contact your physician if bruises appear on the body for no apparent reason. They may be symptomatic of different diseases, including leukemia, hemophilia, and aplastic anemia.

Bruises that appear under the fingernails may be a warning sign of an early melanoma (the most dangerous form of skin cancer), and so should be evaluated by a physician.

Contact your ophthalmologist if you are struck in the eye and develop a black eye. The colorful bruising of the skin around the eye is typical after impact, but the impact itself may be damaging to the eye and should be evaluated.

Also see a doctor if a bruise doesn’t appear to be healing after two or three days.

For More Information about Bruises

  • American Academy of Dermatology

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at HealthCommunities.com

Published: 11 Aug 2010

Last Modified: 03 Sep 2015