What Causes Red Bruises on Arms and Legs?

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If you’re noticing red bruises on your arms and legs or anywhere else on your body, you might be wondering why you’re bruising for no reason. You don’t remember bumping into anything or sustaining an injury so what’s going on? When mysterious red spots or red bruising show up on your skin, it can cause fear and frustration. Let’s take a look at some of the common causes of these red bruises.

The Difference between Regular Bruises and Red Bruises

With a regular bruise, an injury causes a rupture in the tiny capillaries under the skin. This is what causes the strange discoloration and painful bump that usually goes away in a week or two. With red bruises, there has been no direct injury. The capillaries are rupturing on their own.

Red bruises fall into two categories: Purpura or petechiae. Purpura is a large, flat discoloration of the skin that does not lighten when pressure is applied. It usually covers one or two small areas of the body. Petechiae, on the other hand, are smaller red or purple bumps that start in a small area but may spread quickly, indicating serious internal bleeding.

Common Causes of Red Bruises

Mysterious red bruising has several different causes ranging from mild to severe.

  • Vitamin Deficiencies

Vitamin deficiencies are a common cause of red bruises on the arms and legs. People with celiac disease, crohn’s disease, cancer and other malabsorption disorders may suffer from vitamin deficiencies. Vitamin B12, C, K, and folic acid are the most likely to cause mysterious red bruising on the body.

  • Blood-Thinning Medications

If you’re taking blood-thinning medications such as aspirin or the steroid Prednisone, you may develop unusual red bruising. Talk with your doctor about possibly switching medications.

  • Vasculitis

Vasculitis is inflammation of the blood vessels and can occur at any age. There are two types of vasculitis, acute and chronic. While some forms of this syndrome clear up on their own, others require medication to prevent organ and tissue damage. Vasculitis often occurs in patients with lupus or other autoimmune disorders.

  • Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP)

This disorder is quite common in young women and has been known to be associated with Celiac disease. In people with thrombocytopenia or its more serious cousin,ITP, the immune system attacks and destroys the platelets responsible for blood clotting. Since the blood does not clot properly, people with this disorder bleed and bruise easily and may notice patches of red bruising on their arms, legs, and trunk. In the case of petechiae, medical attention should be sought immediately as this is indicative of heavy internal bleeding. If you often have nosebleeds, heavy menstrual periods, periods of extreme fatigue, and easy bruising, it could be ITP.

  • Alcoholism

Alcoholism can cause red bruising in the face, especially the nose area. Excessive alcohol consumption thins the blood and causes capillaries in the face to burst, resulting in a constant red, rash-like bruise.

  • Liver Disease

Liver disease often leads to a condition called cholestasis, whereby bile transit has either been reduced or stopped. Symptoms of this condition include dark urine, pale stool, small spider-like blood vessels on the skin, and easy bleeding.

  • Sepsis

Sepsis occurs when the body has an extreme response to bacteria known as a systemic inflammatory response syndrome. In sepsis, the body usually goes into shock as toxins build up in the blood or tissues. This is an uncommon cause of red bruising and is often accompanied by such severe symptoms; it cannot be mistaken for anything else.

  • Cancer

Sometimes mysterious red patches can indicate skin cancer. It may also be indicative of certain types of cancer such as Hodgkin’s Disease, leukemia or multiple myeloma.

Mysterious red bruising doesn’t always mean you have a serious physical illness. However, if you’re concerned about the red spots on your skin and are experiencing other strange symptoms, speak with your doctor. It is always best to rule out a serious medical condition before trying to treat the condition on your own. Whatever the cause for your mystery symptoms, don’t give up. Like I always say, you’re not alone and you’re not crazy!

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About Author: Jaime A. Heidel
  • Cheryl MacNeil

    It took a long time for me to figure it out that aspirin was the cause of my big red bruises. The aspirin would cause itching. The areas I scratched would be left with large red bruises to the point where people thought I had been beaten and offered to take me in. Any bump would leave a red bruise far out of proportion to the injury. As well there were “normal” looking bruises for no apparent reason.

  • admin


    Thank you for sharing your comment. I’m glad you found the source of your mystery symptoms and it wasn’t any more serious than that!


  • Myra White

    I have the bruises on my arms, just like Cheryl I have to wear long sleeves because it looks like someone beat me. I started out with Sores on my arms and legs then the more I scratched I was getting bruises, the itching is terrible, nothing is working anymore to get rid if the itching. I went from Primary care physician to Dermatologist to allergist to infectious disease doctor. Was told I HAD extreme dermatitis, w


  • admin

    Hi Myra,

    If it’s dermatitis, have you tried adding probiotics to your diet? Probiotics help strengthen your immune system and decrease allergic response.

    Thank you for your comment and best of luck to you!


  • Erin Gray

    Thanks! This information has been incredibly helpful!