Anemia And Bruising: What Is The Connection?

Around 5.6% of Americans live with anemia, with the highest-risk groups being women of reproductive age and children. There are different kinds of anemia, and iron-deficiency anemia can sometimes be related to easy bruising.¹

Let's take a closer look at the link between anemia and bruising.

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What is anemia?

Anemia is a decrease in the number of red blood cells, hemoglobin, or hematocrit (percentage by volume of red blood cells). It has various causes, including:

  • Insufficient production of red blood cells

  • Destruction of red blood cells

  • Loss of red blood cells

Red blood cells contain a protein called hemoglobin. This protein is responsible for carrying oxygen throughout the body. An insufficient amount of hemoglobin, regardless of red blood cell count, can prevent your tissues from getting the oxygen they need to function well.

However, anemia is not a diagnosis; it is a symptom of an underlying condition. Common signs and symptoms of anemia include:

  • General fatigue

  • Pallor

  • Dyspnea (shortness of breath) on exertion

  • Weakness

Many different types of anemia exist. The most common one is iron-deficiency anemia which, as the name suggests, is brought on by a lack of iron.

Anemia is usually treatable. By addressing the underlying problem, it's possible to restore the levels of red blood cells, hemoglobin, and hematocrit.

What are the dietary causes of anemia?

To make red blood cells and hemoglobin, your body requires different vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. The most important ones for normal hemoglobin and red blood cell production are:

  • Iron

  • Folic acid

  • Vitamin B12

Once the body stops getting enough of these vitamins and minerals, red blood cell production can be disrupted.

A deficiency in these nutrients could be caused by:

  • Stomach lining problems that affect the way your body absorbs vital nutrients

  • A poor diet that doesn't contain enough foods with iron, folic acid, B12, and other vitamins and minerals

  • Surgery that removes part of the stomach and disrupts sufficient nutrient absorption

Other conditions that may lead to anemia are:

  • Heavy periods

  • Pregnancy

  • Colon polyps or cancer

  • Ulcers

  • Inherited disorders

  • Blood disorders or cancer

  • Metabolic disorder (glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency)

  • Kidney disease

  • Long-lasting conditions that lead to inflammation

  • Urinary tract bleeding

You may also develop anemia if you regularly use certain medications, for example, aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), because they can lead to bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract.

Anemia affects more and more people every year. Avoiding diagnosis or treatment could make your other chronic conditions worse or interfere with the effectiveness of their treatment. However, timely diagnosis and treatment can prevent related issues and deaths caused by anemia.

Anemia and bruising

Reduced production of healthy platelets is known as thrombocytopenia. While this condition is more commonly associated with vitamin B12 deficiency and associated pernicious anemia, thrombocytopenia can happen in extreme cases of iron-deficiency anemia.²

Platelets are cells in your blood that help stop bleeding. A low platelet count makes it difficult for the blood to clot, which can lead to symptoms such as:

  • Easy bruising

  • Internal bleeding

  • Bleeding gums

Bruising and bleeding are related. Bleeding is the loss of blood on the outside of the body. A bruise (also called a hematoma) occurs when blood vessels are damaged and bleed internally.

If your platelet count is normal, the internal bleeding from a minor bump, such as hitting your hand on a door handle, stops quickly, and you don't see a bruise. However, if the bleeding continues for some time, the skin becomes blue or black.

Since anemia symptoms are often generic (e.g., tiredness, pallor) and attributed to other causes, it's important to pay close attention to your body.

If you start bruising easily or find bruises on your body that "came out of nowhere," make an appointment with your doctor. It could be a sign of anemia caused by thrombocytopenia, which needs urgent attention from a hematologist (blood and bone marrow expert).

Diagnosing and treating iron-deficiency anemia

Diagnosing anemia is usually an easy process. Your doctor may:

  • Review your medical and family history

  • Ask about your symptoms and their duration (sometimes you may not think you have symptoms of anemia until a doctor points them out)

  • Check the color of your skin, gums, and nail beds

  • Listen to your heart and lungs

  • Feel your abdomen

  • Check for rectal bleeding

Next, your doctor is likely to order a blood test to check your complete blood count. Depending on the results, further testing may be necessary. Once the results are ready, your doctor can design a course of treatment aimed at increasing your red blood cell count.

If you need treatment for underlying conditions, they will refer you to other specialists. For example, women with heavy periods may need to speak to a gynecologist about ways to reduce excessive bleeding.

While following doctor's orders, you can improve your condition by adding sufficient vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to your diet.

Other causes of easy bruising

Anemia isn't the only reason why you may bruise easily. Other causes of easy bruising include:

  • Liver problems, including some caused by heavy drinking

  • Certain types of cancer

  • Inherited bleeding disorder

  • Certain medications (NSAIDs, aspirin, and other blood thinners)

  • Aging as the subcutaneous tissue decreases, leading to easily damaged blood vessels

While some conditions that cause easy bruising aren't dangerous, others could lead to serious consequences. If you notice an increase in bruising frequency, make an appointment with your doctor.

The lowdown

If you have anemia, you may have a low platelet count that causes easy bruising. If you start bruising more easily than before or keep discovering new bruises on your body without an obvious reason, contact your doctor.

However, there are many other reasons for easy bruising. Speak to your doctor to diagnose the problem as early as possible to help prevent serious consequences.

Frequently asked questions

Can being anemic cause bruising?

Depending on the cause of anemia, yes. But it’s not particularly common.

What do anemia bruises look like?

Bruises that occur due to anemia-related platelet reduction look like regular bruises.

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