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Petechiae

Medically reviewed on April 17, 2018

Definition

Petechiae are pinpoint, round spots that appear on the skin as a result of bleeding. The bleeding causes the petechiae to appear red, brown or purple. Petechiae (puh-TEE-kee-ee) commonly appear in clusters and may look like a rash. Usually flat to the touch, petechiae don't lose color when you press on them. Sometimes they appear on the inner surfaces of the mouth or the eyelids.

Petechiae are common and may indicate a number of conditions, ranging from minor to very serious.

Petechiae

Petechiae may look like a rash and usually appear in clusters. Here they appear on a leg (A) and on an abdomen (B).

Causes

Tiny blood vessels (capillaries) link the smallest parts of your arteries to the smallest parts of your veins. Petechiae appear when capillaries bleed, leaking blood into the skin. A number of things can cause this bleeding, including:

  • Prolonged straining
  • Medications
  • Medical conditions

Prolonged straining

Tiny petechiae of the face, neck and chest can be caused by prolonged straining during activities such as coughing, vomiting, giving birth and weightlifting.

Medications

Petechiae may result from taking some types of medications, including:

  • Phenytoin (Cerebyx)
  • Penicillin
  • Quinine (Qualaquin)

Infectious diseases

Petechiae may be caused by any of a number of fungal, viral and bacterial infections, including:

  • Cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection
  • Endocarditis
  • Meningococcemia
  • Mononucleosis
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever
  • Scarlet fever
  • Sepsis
  • Strep throat
  • Viral hemorrhagic fevers

Other medical conditions

Petechiae may also be caused by noninfectious medical conditions. Examples include:

  • Vasculitis
  • Thrombocytopenia
  • Leukemia
  • Scurvy (vitamin C deficiency)
  • Vitamin K deficiency

When to see a doctor

See your doctor promptly if you or your child develops unexplained or widespread petechiae. It's important to determine the cause, since some underlying problems can be potentially serious.

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