Petechiae refer to small areas where broken capillary veins bleed into layers of skin. These small bleeding areas manifest themselves as tiny round dots, which are the about the size and shape of a pinpoint. Generally, petechiae are purple or blue in color and are flat. Although they usually appear on the lower parts of the legs, they can present themselves on any part of the body. Typically, petechiae are not painful, nor do they itch. They may be caused by numerous conditions, some more serious than others.
Common causes include trauma or injury to the skin, allergic reactions, and autoimmune conditions. In addition, the condition can result from liver disease, infections or leukemia. A condition called thrombocytopenia, a blood disorder where the number of blood platelets are deficient, can also be a factor in this condition. Sometimes, medications such as blood thinners can contribute to skin petechiae. Medications such as aspirin inhibit platelet aggregation as well, which causes blood to thin and promote bleeding into the skin.
Typically, when an individual presents with symptoms, his physician may ask him a series a questions to determine the underlying cause. Common questions include when were the spots first noticed and whether the patient has been sick recently. In addition, the health care provider will inquire about what medications the patient is receiving and what preexisting medical conditions he has. If the patient has sustained an injury to the area, he should report it to his physician as well.
If a patient is experiencing petechiae symptoms, his physician may order medical tests to make a proper diagnosis. Common tests include a complete blood count, a bleeding time blood test, and a clotting time blood test. These tests are invaluable in determining if the patient's blood clots in a normal fashion and within a normal time frame. Sometimes, if the patient's blood work is abnormal, a bone marrow test or biopsy may be performed to further evaluate the cause.
Treating petechiae depends on what is causing the condition. If the condition is caused by an injury, no treatment will be necessary, as the marks will fade over time as the injury heals. If the condition is related to a reaction from medication, the physician may choose to discontinue or change the medication. Sometimes bleeding into the skin is related to a malignancy, such as leukemia. In cases where cancer is the cause, treating the cancer with chemotherapeutic agents or radiation may eliminate the petechial rash.