Is my bruising normal?

Ask the doctors

Q. I've found that I bruise more easily as I've gotten older. Is that normal?

A. If you're noticing more black-and-blue marks on your body, it's most likely not a skin or blood problem. Age-related changes to your skin and underlying blood vessels can make you more prone to bruising.

A bruise occurs when an injury of some sort breaks tiny blood vessels, called capillaries, which then bleed under the surface of your skin, creating that familiar black-and-blue mark. You're more prone to bruising as you age because both your skin and your capillaries become more fragile. You may also have less fat beneath your skin to act as protective cushioning. Common spots for age-related bruising are the arms, legs, feet, and hands.

While aging can affect your bruising risk, it certainly isn't the only factor that can make you more prone to black-and-blue marks. Other factors include your gender — women tend to bruise more easily than men — and certain medications, including antiplatelet agents, anticoagulants (more commonly known as blood thinners), corticosteroids, certain antibiotics, and even some supplements, such as ginkgo biloba.

While it can be normal to bruise more as you get older, there are cases where it may signal an underlying health problem. So, if your bruising is frequent, severe, or worrisome to you for any reason, it's always a good idea to discuss it with your doctor.

— by Hope Ricciotti, M.D., and Hye-Chun Hur, M.D., M.P.H.
Editors in Chief, Harvard Women's Health Watch