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Petechiae

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
  • Certain medical conditions
  • Specific types of injuries
  • Medications
  • Injuries and sunburn

Prolonged straining

Tiny petechiae of the face, neck and chest can be caused by prolonged straining during activities such as:

  • Crying
  • Coughing
  • Vomiting
  • Childbirth
  • Weightlifting

Certain medications

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

  • Anticoagulants (warfarin, heparin)
  • Atropine (Atropen)
  • Carbamazepine (Carbatrol, Epitol, Tegretol, others)
  • Chloral hydrate (Somnote)
  • Desipramine (Norpramin)
  • Indomethacin (Indocin)
  • Naproxen (Aleve, Anaprox, Naprosyn)
  • Nitrofurantoin (Furadantin, Macrobid, Macrodantin)
  • Penicillin
  • Quinine (Qualaquin)

Infectious diseases

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

  • Cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection
  • (an infection of the inner lining of the heart)
  • Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome
  • Meningococcemia
  • Mononucleosis
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever
  • Scarlet fever
  • Sepsis — an overwhelming bloodstream infection that uses up neutrophils faster than they can be produced
  • Strep throat
  • Viral hemorrhagic fevers

Other medical conditions

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

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

Injuries or sunburns

Child abuse involving strangulation or smothering can cause petechiae in the face and eyes. Biting and spanking can also cause petechiae. Crush injuries, such as those experienced during car crashes, can result in petechiae of the face, neck and chest. Severe sunburn also can sometimes include petechiae.

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.

Last updated: May 5th, 2015

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