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What are bruises?

Bruises are patches that appear on the skin when tiny blood vessels called capillaries break or burst underneath. On fair skin the patches are usually bluish or purple coloured.

On darker skin the patches may be a dark purple, brownish or black coloured.

The blood from the capillaries leaks into the soft tissue under your skin, causing the discolouration.

Bruises often feel tender or swollen at first.

What causes bruising?

Bruising is caused by internal bleeding under the skin that happens when a person has injured themselves.

Some people are naturally more likely to bruise than others. For example, older people may bruise easily because their skin is thinner and the tissue underneath is more fragile.

How can I reduce bruising?

Treat bruises on your skin by limiting the bleeding. You can do this by cooling the area with a cold compress (a flannel or cloth soaked in cold water) or an ice pack wrapped in a towel.

To make an ice pack, place ice cubes or a packet of frozen vegetables in a plastic bag then wrap it in a towel. Hold this over the area for at least 10 minutes. Do not put the ice pack straight on to your skin as this will be too cold and could hurt.

Over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen may help relieve the pain associated with bruising.

When to see a GP

Most bruises will disappear after around 2 weeks. If the bruise is still there after 2 weeks, see a GP.

You should also see a GP if you suddenly get lots of bruises or start to bruise for no obvious reason. Unusual bruising is sometimes a symptom of an underlying illness, such as a problem with the way your blood clots.

Internal bruising

Bruises do not just happen under the skin – they can also happen deeper in your tissues, organs and bones. While the bleeding is not visible, internal bruising can cause:

  • pain and tenderness in the area of your body that was injured
  • limited range of movement in nearby joints

If you're worried that you may have internal bruising from an injury or accident, ask for an urgent GP appointment or call 111 for advice.

Find the answers to more questions about accidents, first aid and treatments.

Further information

Page last reviewed: 29 November 2019
Next review due: 29 November 2022