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A petechial hemorrhage is a form of mild hemorrhage which causes distinctive markings known as petechiae. These markings take the form of small red to purple spots which can vary in size and distribution from a few tiny markings to an array which may look like a rash or abrasion. Petechiae can be caused by a variety of situations and conditions, and they can play a role in both forensic science and medical diagnosis.
This condition emerges when the capillaries near the surface of the body burst, causing small red marks to appear near the site of the rupture. The marks may persist for several days before fading away as the body heals itself, and they can be indicative of a number of medical issues.
Fans of crime novels and criminal television shows may be familiar with one of the most famous forms of this type of hemorrhage, the sort discovered by the medical examiner or hero which proves that someone was asphyxiated. When people are asphyxiated, a classic petechial hemorrhage develops in the eyes as the blood vessels burst, and petechiae may appear around the face as well. Although the coroner always seems to find these markings right away in fiction, in actuality it takes a good eye and a strong light source, as the tiny markings can be very hard to identify.
People can also experience a petechial hemorrhage as a result of trauma to an area of the skin, such as that caused by intense pressure or a sharp blow. Victims of the prank known as the "Indian burn" may have noticed this type of hemorrhage at the site caused by trauma to the skin, as have people who have been grasped firmly by someone else. Recurrent markings can suggest that someone has a low platelet count or a clotting disorder which interferes with vascular pressure.
Petechial hemorrhaging can also occur when someone has a seizure, or as a symptom of a disease. A number of conditions have been associated with this type of hemorrhage, ranging from hemorrhagic fevers to typhus. Many diseases which cause fever can be associated with these little red markings.
The appearance of a petechial hemorrhage is not necessarily cause for alarm or panic, as it can be caused by a variety of factors. If the markings do not go away or they grow worse, however, it can be a sign of a serious underlying medical condition which requires attention. These markings can also indicate that someone is experiencing recurrent physical abuse.