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What Causes Petechiae?

Petechiae are round, small reddish or purplish colored marks, which appear on the skin. Petechiae are about pinpoint in size and they look like spots on the skin. The cause of petechiae is minor hemorrhage, which is also known as localized bleeding beneath the skin. Petechiae can also resemble a rash. However, they commonly appear in clusters. The spots of petechiae usually appear on skin of the legs, but they can also appear or spread to other parts of the body. Petechiae are often harmless and do not require any treatment and usually resolve on their own without needing treatment. However, in cases where the petechiae does not disappear and continues to persist and there are other symptoms along with them, medical help should be sought.

Causes of Petechiae

Petechiae are formed when tiny blood vessels called capillaries break open. When these blood vessels break, blood leaks into your skin. Infections and reactions to medications are the most common causes of petechiae. Conditions that may cause petechiae include:

1. Trauma/Injury

Trauma is the primary cause of petechiae spots. If there is application of excessive force or pressure to the body tissue, then this stress causes the development of the petechiae spots. Also, injury to the blood capillaries on skin can result in hemorrhage, which causes leakage of red blood cells from the capillaries resulting in their accumulation beneath the skin, which is known as petechiae. Accumulation of blood beneath the skin after an injury can be more, especially if there is no cut or opening beneath the surface of the skin for the blood to escape.

2. Prolonged Straining

Tiny petechiae can also be caused by prolonged straining during activities such as coughing, vomiting, giving birth and weightlifting.

3. Medications

There are certain medications, which cause allergic reactions resulting in appearance of petechiae on the skin. Petechiae can also develop as side effects of certain medications, such as aspirin, heparin, warfarin and cortisone.

4. Infectious diseases

Petechiae may be caused by any of a number of fungal, viral and bacterial infections, including:

5. Thrombocytopenia

Thrombocytopenia is a disease which occurs due to decreased levels of platelet in the body and cause appearance of petechiae. Thrombocytopenia can also occur as a result of side effects of medicines, which a person takes when suffering from an infection. This impairs the function of the platelets leading to development of petechiae.

6. Other medical conditions

Petechiae may also be caused by noninfectious medical conditions. Examples include:

Treatment options

If a bacterial or viral infection caused the petechiae, your skin should clear up once the infection gets better. If a medication caused the petechiae, this symptom should go away once you stop taking the drug. You should always check the spots often to see if they change. If the number of spots increases, you might have a bleeding disorder. Before recommending a treatment, your doctor will identify what’s causing your petechiae and other symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe any of these medicines to treat the cause of the spots:

  • antibiotics to treat a bacterial infection
  • corticosteroids to bring down inflammation
  • medications that suppress your immune system, such as azathioprine (Azasan, Imuran), methotrexate, or cyclophosphamide
  • chemotherapy, biologic therapy, or radiation to treat cancer

Since petechiae are commonly the result of another condition, the only way to prevent them occurring is to try to avoid the conditions that cause them. Trying to stay fit and healthy, avoiding infections, practicing good hygiene and safe sex, and avoiding medications that cause petechiae are pretty good ways to reduce the chances of developing them.