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Bruises normally not a cause for alarm (12-16-99)

Bruises have become commonplace for 80-year-old Lou Welch. A minor run-in with any solid object leaves a noticeable mark on her arms, and although the bruises do not hurt, they are unsightly.

"As we age, our skin changes. The soft tissue under the skin diminishes, making the surface more like parchment paper and more fragile," says geriatrician Michael Lichtenstein, M.D., professor of medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. "A bruise is a reaction—the blood vessel has broken, the blood seeps and that’s what causes the purplish color."

Bruises typically are not a reason for alarm. "This is a very common occurrence among the older patients. Also, many of these patients take aspirin daily, making them more susceptible to bruises," says Dr. Lichtenstein.

Welch is more concerned about the unsightliness of the bruises than anything else. "They do not hurt, but they make me self-conscious about my arms and I think twice about wearing short sleeves," she says.

Some situations call for medical attention, Dr. Lichtenstein says. These include a sudden increase in bruising, unusual pain with bruising or bleeding in the gums.

"Elderly patients need to keep in mind that if, suddenly, something different is occurring when they bruise, that’s a red flag requiring a physician’s attention," says Dr. Lichtenstein.

Although Welch’s bruises are not a major concern, she did mention them to her doctor and was reassured nothing was wrong.

Contact: Myong Covert