Petechiae: What They Are and What to Do About Them
Read on to learn more about the causes, symptoms, and treatment options associated with petechiae.
Petechiae occur when blood under the skin causes small dots to appear. There are many conditions and diseases that can cause the bleeding. They include the following.
Physical trauma can cause petechiae. Examples of physical trauma include:
- heavy lifting with extreme straining
- violent coughing
There are a few blood disorders that can cause petechiae, including:
- Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC): DIC is a condition that results in unusual blood clotting.
- Immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP): ITP is a blood disorder wherein the immune system destroys platelets.
There are several infections that can cause petechiae, including:
- Enteroviruses: These viruses can be asymptomatic, and they are typically mild. They are characterized by a runny nose, fever, and cough.
- Scarlet fever: This is a bacterial infection that can cause a rash.
- Dengue fever: This is a virus spread by mosquitos. It can cause a rash.
- Meningococcal disease: This is a serious contagious bacterial infection.
Some other causes of petechiae include:
- Leukemia: Leukemia is a type of cancer that affects the blood cells.
- Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE): SLE causes the immune system to attack the body’s tissues. It is the most common type of lupus.
- Ehlers-Danlos syndrome: This is a group of disorders that affect the connective tissues of the body.
- Bernard-Soulier syndrome: This is a bleeding disorder wherein platelet counts are low and platelets are larger than usual.
- Vitamin K deficiency: Not having enough vitamin K in the body can contribute to bleeding.
- Drug reactions: Certain drugs can cause adverse reactions such as bleeding.
Petechiae are small, often round spots on the skin. They can be red, brown, or purple.
The spots are less than 2 millimeters in diameter, and they do not disappear if you press down on your skin.
Petechiae may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder, or condition. These symptoms can include:
Petechiae should be evaluated by a physician to find the underlying cause.
To diagnose petechiae, your doctor will perform a thorough visual examination.
In order to diagnose the underlying condition that is causing the petechiae, your doctor will need a detailed account of your medical history. Depending on where the petechiae are and the presence of any other symptoms, your doctor may order blood tests or urine tests.
Diagnosis may be a lengthy process due to the wide range of conditions that can cause petechiae. The symptoms of petechiae may also look very similar to those of other conditions, including purpura and ecchymosis.
Treatment for petechiae will depend on the cause.
If the cause is temporary, such as excessive straining or coughing, your doctor may recommend observation and allow the petechiae to resolve without treatment.
If the cause is more serious, your doctor may recommend treating it. When treatment is necessary, it will change based on the underlying cause.
If your doctor suspects an infection, for example, they may start IV antibiotics. Other causes may also involve hospitalization for expert consultation. If your doctor diagnoses a blood disorder or cancer, they may refer you to a hematologist or an oncologist, respectively, for evaluation and treatment.
If petechiae result from a drug reaction, your doctor may stop or change your medication.
Petechiae originating from physical trauma should resolve on their own. Petechiae related to an underlying blood clotting disorder or another serious condition can result in severe complications and require prompt treatment.
Once your doctor has identified the underlying cause, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that they design for you.
If you develop petechiae, contact your doctor. They can help you decide if you need immediate treatment based on your medical history.
Call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room when petechiae occur along with:
- a change in consciousness
- fever, especially in a child
- a rapid heart rate
Petechiae are tiny, flat, typically round spots on the skin caused by bleeding. Many things can cause this bleeding, including physical trauma, reactions to drugs, infections, and blood disorders. The spots can be red, brown, or purple.
Doctors will use physical examinations, blood tests, and urine tests to identify the underlying cause of petechiae. Treatment can involve antibiotics, specialist care, or simple observation.
Talk with your doctor if you think you have petechiae.