What is the pathophysiology of physical child abuse-related bruising?

Updated: Apr 24, 2017
  • Author: Angelo P Giardino, MD, MPH, PhD; Chief Editor: Caroly Pataki, MD  more...
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Bruising occurs when blunt mechanical force is applied to the child's skin to such a degree that capillaries (and potentially larger vessels) become disrupted resulting in the leakage of blood into the subcutaneous tissue. The amount of blood and size and location of the involved area account for the appearance of the bruise. If force is applied via an object, the bruise may reflect the shape and geometry of the object.

In general, a bruise progresses through a series of colors beginning with deep red, blue, or purple, then changes to a deep blue, then greenish, and, finally, resolves with a yellowish brown color. The various colors emanate from the breakdown of the extravascular blood into the components of hemoglobin. As the extravascular blood organizes itself and is resorbed, certain patterns of color change are expected; however, caution is advised because no clearly predictable chronology can be relied on with absolute certainty. Physicians should be cautious in offering dating information and, at most, only should suggest broad time ranges based on the clinical appearance and stages of healing of the bruise. Similar to fractures, recent data on dating of bruises indicate that color is a poor predictor of bruise age. [12]

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