Petechia and purpura on the low limb due to medication-induced vasculitis
  • petechia /pɪˈtkiə/ petechiae /pɪˈtki/
Classification and external resources
Specialty Rheumatology
ICD-10 R23.3
ICD-9-CM 782.7
MeSH D011693

A petechia, plural petechiae, is a small (1–2 mm) red or purple spot on the skin, caused by a minor bleed from broken capillary blood vessels.[1]

Petechia refers to one of the three descriptive types of bleeding into the skin differentiated by size, the other two being purpura and ecchymosis. Petechiae are by definition less than 3 mm.

The term is almost always used in the plural, since a single lesion is seldom noticed or significant.


Physical trauma

  • Coughing, holding breath, vomiting, crying - The most common cause of petechiae is through physical trauma such as a hard bout of coughing, holding breath, vomiting or crying, which can result in facial petechiae, especially around the eyes. Such instances are harmless and usually disappear within a few days.
  • Constriction, Asphyxiation - Petechiae may also occur when excessive pressure is applied to tissue (e.g., when a tourniquet is applied to an extremity or with excessive coughing or vomiting).
  • Sunburn, childbirth, weightlifting[2]
  • Gua Sha, a Chinese treatment that scrapes the skin
  • High-G training
  • Hickey
  • Asphyxiation
  • Choking Game
  • Oral sex[3]

Non-infectious conditions

Infectious conditions

Forensic science

Petechiae on the face and conjunctiva (eyes) can be a sign of a death by asphyxiation, particularly when involving reduced venous return from the head (such as in strangulation). Petechiae are thought to result from an increase of pressure in the veins of the head and hypoxic damage to endothelia of blood vessels.[7]

Petechiae can be used by police investigators in determining if strangulation has been part of an attack. The documentation of the presence of petechiae on a victim can help police investigators prove the case.[8] Petechiae resulting from strangulation can be relatively tiny and light in color to very bright and pronounced. Petechiae may be seen on the face, in the whites of the eyes or on the inside of the eyelids.

See also

  • Purpura, which is the mid-sized type of hematoma (3mm-1 cm)
  • Ecchymoses, which is the large type of hematoma (>1 cm)


  1. 1 2 Kumar, Vinay; Abbas, Abul K.; Fausto, Nelson; & Mitchell, Richard N. (2007). Robbins Basic Pathology (8th ed.). Saunders Elsevier. p. 86 ISBN 978-1-4160-2973-1
  2. 1 2 3 4 "Causes".
  3. Schlesinger, SL; Borbotsina, J; O'Neill, L (September 1975). "Petechial hemorrhages of the soft palate secondary to fellatio". Oral surgery, oral medicine, and oral pathology. 40 (3): 376–78. PMID 1080847.
  4. Grayson MD, Charlotte (2006-09-26). "Typhus". MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved 2007-11-05.
  5. Fact Sheet: Tonsillitis] from American Academy of Otolaryngology. "Updated 1/11". Retrieved November 2011
  6. Brook I, Dohar JE (December 2006). "Management of group A beta-hemolytic streptococcal pharyngotonsillitis in children". J Fam Pract. 55 (12): S1–11; quiz S12. PMID 17137534.
  7. Ely, Susan F.; Charles S. Hirsch (2000). "Asphyxial deaths and petechiae: a review" (PDF). Journal of Forensic Science. 45 (6): 1274–1277. Retrieved 2007-09-22.
  8. "Investigating Domestic Violence Strangulation". Retrieved 12 May 2011.
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