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What is Senile Purpura?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Senile purpura is a common sign of aging which appears in the form of dark blotches on the skin caused by bruising. Older adults tend to be more prone to bruising, for a variety of reasons, and they can develop dark patches with no apparent source of trauma. Another cause of purpura, a tendency to bruise darkly and apparently at random, can be excessive sun exposure, in which case it may be known as actinic purpura. People with a sudden onset of purpura may want to consider consulting a doctor, but in other cases, it is usually not a cause for concern.

There are a number of reasons why seniors tend to experience purpura. Their blood vessels are usually fragile and prone to rupturing to form subcutaneous hematomas, and their skin has also experienced decades of sun damage. The loss of subcutaneous fat also reduces the natural cushioning in the body which would normally prevent bruising, allowing even light contact to raise a bruise. In addition, many older adults take medications such as blood thinners which can further increase susceptibility to bruising and discoloration.

In people with senile purpura, dark purple blotches appear, most commonly on the arms and legs. Over a series of weeks, the blotches fade to brown discolorations and eventually resolve. In some cases, the brown discolorations never completely fade. This condition is not dangerous, and is not a sign of any underlying disease process which needs attention. It is primarily regarded as a cosmetic issue because people may experience social discomfort as a result of the bruising on their arms and legs.

Senile purpura is not treatable, as a general rule. However, if people are troubled by the appearance of bruises, they can ask their doctors to evaluate their medications. People on medication may be able to find alternative drugs to use which can reduce their risk of bruising, making the bruises less common and less dark. Others may opt to wear long sleeves and pants to cover up the senile purpura lesions.

While it will not necessarily reduce bruising, caring for the skin can make older adults feel more comfortable. Skin tends to become less elastic with age, and regular moisturization can help people avoid dry skin, tight skin, and similar types of skin-related discomfort. When applying moisturizers and other skin care products, individuals with senile purpura should be gentle because they may accidentally bruise themselves in the process. Using a swab or sponge for application, rather than the hand, can reduce the risk of bruising.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon994983 — On Mar 22, 2016

I have been dealing with bruising of my forearms for about 5 years now. I am 68 years old and my skin on my arms is so thin, that I barely bump into something and I get a red bruise. They usually last about two weeks, and by the time I think I'm getting rid of them, another one shows up! very frustrating. I get irritated with myself being so vain about the way my arms look, but am very thankful that is the only place I have a problem. I just wear long sleeves as much as I can. Dread the hot, humid summertime!

By anon954433 — On Jun 01, 2014

I'm only 53 years old and the slightest knock results in awful purple bruises which materialize instantly. I'm frightened that if I may bleed to death if I knock my arms or hands. It looks ugly and even camouflage make up is ineffective. I'm at my wits' end!

By anon926258 — On Jan 17, 2014

At age 64, my doc said I should take 2,000 IU/day of Vitamin D because of low D levels. Within a short time, I noticed my senile purpura bruising was greatly lessened. I have increased the dose to 4,000 IU and at age 66, I rarely have any bruising and when I do, it resolves quickly.

The backs of my hands are clear of bruising most all of the time now. I noticed that taking some aspirin made the bruising return. Naproxen does not. This would cause me to think that Vitamin D might help with purpura related to blood thinner use.

By bagley79 — On Jun 23, 2012

The term 'senile purpura' really sounds like an awful condition for something that you can't do much about. When my mom was prescribed a blood thinner after a stroke, spots of bruising started showing up on her skin.

It is also frustrating knowing there really isn't any purpura treatment that is effective. This shows me how important it is to take care of your skin now and not let it get dried out, but keep it hydrated and moisturized.

It is kind of scary to think about how fragile your blood vessels become as you age. I never would have thought I could bruise my face just by applying some moisturizer.

By SarahSon — On Jun 23, 2012

My mom has spots of senile purpura on her arms and face and many times doesn't want to go outside because she is so self-conscious about them. She can wear long sleeves to cover the spots on her arms, but there isn't much she can do for the ones on her face.

The spots are too dark to try and use any makeup to cover them up. She is afraid people will think she is falling down and shouldn't be staying in her home alone.

Her doctor said there wasn't really any treatment for purpura and that the spots should eventually fade away. Many of them have lightened in color, but it seems like as soon as they get lighter, others will show up.

At first I wondered if these might be hereditary and wondered if I would have this to look forward to as I got older. It sounds like this just goes along with getting older no matter what. Even if you keep your skin moisturized, it still sounds like you could end up with bruising like this on your body.

By John57 — On Jun 22, 2012

Now I know why my grandpa always had dark spots on his skin that looked like bruises. He spent most of his life working outside and had a lot of sun exposure. His purpura cause must have been from many years of sun.

I wonder if using sunscreen on a regular basis would decrease your chances of developing senile purpura? As far as I know, he rarely ever put any sunscreen on, but did usually have on a hat on which would have given him a little bit of protection.

He never seemed too bothered by these spots on his skin. Sometimes they were worse than others, and he just saw it as something that came along with getting older.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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