Definition of petechiae
Petechiae (pronounced puh-TEE-kee-ee) are pinpoint, round spots that appear on the skin as a result of bleeding under the skin. The bleeding causes the petechiae to appear red, brown or purple. Petechiae 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.
Petechiae are tiny, usually measuring less than an eighth of an inch (about 3 millimeters). Larger varieties of these types of spots are called purpura. Petechiae may indicate a number of conditions, ranging from minor blood vessel injuries to life-threatening medical conditions.
Causes of petechiae
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 — including prolonged straining, certain medical conditions, specific types of injuries and some medications — can cause this bleeding.
Tiny petechiae of the face, neck and chest can be caused by prolonged straining during activities such as:
Some types of medications can result in petechiae, including:
- Atropine (Atropen)
- Carbamazepine (Carbatrol, Epitol, Tegretol, others)
- Chloral hydrate (Somnote)
- Cimetidine (Tagamet)
- Desipramine (Norpramin)
- Indomethacin (Indocin)
- Morphine (Avinza, Ms Contin, others)
- Naproxen (Aleve, Anaprox, Naprosyn)
- Nitrofurantoin (Furadantin, Macrobid, Macrodantin)
- Quinine (Qualaquin)
Some types of infectious diseases can cause petechiae on the skin, while others may result in petechiae on the inner surfaces of the mouth or eyelids. A variety of fungal, viral and bacterial infections can cause petechiae, including:
- Cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection
- Parvovirus infection
- Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever
- Scarlet fever
- Strep throat
- Viral hemorrhagic fevers
Other medical conditions
Many noninfectious medical conditions also can cause petechiae. Examples include:
- Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS)
- Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP)
- Infantile scurvy
- 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.