What is Purpura?

Debra Durkee

Purpura is a condition where purple, bruise-like spots appear on the skin, inside the mouth, or on the organs. This occurs when blood vessels begin to leak and blood collects beneath the skin. Spots may be large and resemble bruises, or small and rash-like.

Individuals with purpura are prone to nosebleeds.
Individuals with purpura are prone to nosebleeds.

There are two types of purpura, defined by an individual's platelet count. Platelets are tiny molecules in the blood that give the blood its clotting properties. Those with purpura and normal platelet levels have a condition called nonthrombocytopenic purpuras, while those who also show lower than normal levels of platelets have thrombocytopenic purpuras. Acute cases are short term and last less than six months, while chronic cases last more than six months.

Woman may develop purpura due to pressure changes in the body when they go through childbirth.
Woman may develop purpura due to pressure changes in the body when they go through childbirth.

The spots themselves have different names, depending on the size and appearance of the spots. Small spots that resemble a rash are called petechiae. Large spots that look like bruises are called ecchymoses.

Purpura may be caused by medications that affect the function of platelets.
Purpura may be caused by medications that affect the function of platelets.

Typically, there are other symptoms that go along with the distinctive spots on the skin. Individuals with this condition often have the same spots on the inside of the mouth and gums. They are also prone to nosebleeds and dramatic bleeding during visits to the dentist. Women may have heavier and more difficult menstrual cycles than typical.

Causes vary based on the type of purpura individuals are diagnosed with. Nonthrombocytopenic conditions can be caused by medications or drugs that affect the function of platelets, inflammation of blood vessels, congenital rubella, or congenital cytomegalovirus. Woman can also develop this type because of the pressure changes in the body when they go through childbirth. Thrombocytopenic purpura can be caused by hemangioma, meningococcemia, or by blood-thinning drugs that stop platelets from forming. Infants can also be susceptible to this type, especially if the mother has the same condition.

On the most basic level, the condition is caused by a faulty autoimmune response by the body. When correctly functioning, the body's immune system attacks intruding viruses and helps prevent sickness. It is not known why, but occasionally the body also begins to destroy platelets as it would destroy intruding cells. When this happens, the blood's natural ability to clot decreases and leaks form in the blood vessels.

Purpura is not generally life-threatening. It is possible that bleeding in the brain can occur from leaking blood vessels; this is extremely rare but can also be deadly. In many cases, this condition goes away on its own within weeks or months of beginning. In more severe cases, medication or surgery can be used to regulate it, although individuals can live comfortably with the condition for decades.

Large, bruise-like spots are called ecchymoses.
Large, bruise-like spots are called ecchymoses.

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Discussion Comments


I had allergic purpura for a short while last year. When my doctor saw my rash, he asked me immediately if I'm on birth control pills and he told me to stop using them right away. I quit the medications and the rash disappeared in a few weeks. Isn't this weird?


@turquoise-- What type of purpura does your daughter have? I think the type is important because different types can have different causes and treatments.

For example, my son has Henoch-Schonlein purpura which is caused by an immune system dysfunction. There isn't much treatment aside from trying to keep the symptoms under control. But he has been doing better lately and hopefully he will recover soon.


My daughter has been diagnosed with purpura, she's eighteen years old. She has the purpura rash almost all over her body and it's causing her a lot of tension and worry. It's not just that she feels ill, but she also feels bad about her appearance and it's really getting to her.

Her doctor had predicted that the purpura would go away on its own but it has been six months and there has been no improvement.

What medications can be used to treat this condition? Does anyone else here suffer from purpura?

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