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What is a hematoma?

By definition, a hematoma is a collection of blood outside of a blood vessel. It occurs because the wall of a blood vessel wall, artery, vein or capillary, has been damaged and blood has leaked into tissues where it does not belong. The hematoma may be tiny, with just a dot of blood or it can be large and cause significant swelling.

The blood vessels in the body are under constant repair. Minor injuries occur routinely and the body is usually able to repair the damaged vessel wall by activating the blood clotting cascade and forming fibrin patches. Sometimes the repair fails if the damage is extensive and the large defect allows for continued bleeding. As well, if there is great pressure within the blood vessel, for example a major artery, the blood will continue to leak through the damaged wall and the hematoma will expand.

Blood that escapes from within a blood vessel is very irritating to the surrounding tissue and may cause symptoms of inflammation including pain, swelling, and redness. Symptoms of a hematoma depend upon their location, their size, and whether they cause associated swelling or edema.

Picture of a brain hematoma.
Picture of a brain hematoma.

Bruises and contusions

The medical term ecchymosis is what most people would recognize as a bruise, or blood that has leaked out of an injured blood vessel beneath the skin.. Another word for this injury is a contusion. An ecchymosis tends to be flat while a hematoma has more of a three dimensional character to it. As well, hematomas may occur in any organ and not just under the skin.


Hemorrhage is the term used to describe active bleeding. The term hematoma describes blood that has already clotted.

Return to Hematoma

See what others are saying

Comment from: susie, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: May 03

I was hospitalized for 5 weeks following a hematoma. What began as a slight scratch ended up with two skin grafts. First one was lost when dressing was changed. Entire procedure began again. I bled for 5 days and had 2 full blood transfusions. I also had my arm wrung out (literally). It now looks like either a shark has had a go at me or I had a flesh eating disease. Thank goodness I have a strong constitution. Wish I could send you the photos. Now my arm is healing but very dark brown. My sporting life has ended.

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Comment from: Okra, 65-74 Female (Patient) Published: April 28

I take no blood thinners but experience spontaneous hemorrhages of the hands, wrists and eyes. All are preceded by a stinging sensation, swelling and bruising, except for the eyes. These are somewhat painful to the touch but the blood that leaked out disappears within 1 to 2 days. I also have small red dots all over my upper arms and chest that look like injection sites. Some hematomas are small as in leaking capillaries and some are large looking like veins. I have very thin skin and it tears easily and most of the time I do not feel the injury at all. This is baffling and I will mention it to my primary care physician. I have seen a retina specialist about the eye hemorrhages and they seem to resolve themselves with no treatment (so far).

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Comment from: LORAINE, 65-74 Female (Patient) Published: January 13

On New Year's Eve I sat off my chair and landed on my paper shredder, the corner of it of course. On my left side at my rib cage is where the hematoma is. It hurts so badly. I also developed a cough, and had to sneeze twice when I had to cough. The doctor prescribed Acetamin and cough medicine with codeine to stop the cough and pain. It hurts, yes!

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