AskDefine | Define petechia

Dictionary Definition

petechia n : a minute red or purple spot on the surface of the skin as the result of tiny hemorrhages of blood vessels in the skin (as in typhoid fever) [also: petechiae (pl)]

User Contributed Dictionary



Modern Latin, from Italian petecchie ‘skin eruptions’, from a popular Latin diminutive of Latin petigo ‘scab, eruption’.


  • /pɪ'ti:kɪə/


  1. a small spot, especially on an organ, caused by bleeding underneath the skin
    • 1973: It is scurvy. All my authorities agree – weakness, diffused muscular pain, petechia, tender gums, ill breath – and M’Alister has no doubt of it. — Patrick O’Brian, HMS Surprise

Derived terms

Extensive Definition

A petechia (), plural petechiae (pɨˈtiːkɪiː) is a small red or purple spot on the body, caused by a minor hemorrhage (broken capillary blood vessels).
The most common cause of petechiae is through physical trauma such as a hard bout of coughing, vomiting or crying which can result in facial petechiae, especially around the eyes. Petechiae in this instance are completely harmless and usually disappear within a few days. Petechiae may be a sign of thrombocytopenia (low platelet counts). They also occur in circumstances when platelet function is inhibited (e.g., as a side effect of medications or during certain infections) or when excessive pressure is applied to tissue (e.g., when a tourniquet is applied to an extremity or with excessive coughing).
If unsure, petechiae should always be quickly investigated. They can be interpreted as vasculitis, an inflammation of the blood vessels, which requires immediate treatment to prevent permanent damage. Some malignancies can also cause petechiae to appear. Petechiae should be investigated by a skilled health care provider immediately to rule out the more dangerous conditions. Dermatologists can be the most helpful specialists in these conditions because they can more easily identify if the condition is petechiae or some similar looking but less worrisome rash.
The significance of petechiae in children depends on the clinical context in which they arise. Petechiae in children can occur with viral infections. In this setting they do not necessarily signify serious illness. They are the hallmark of some possibly serious illnesses, however, such as meningococcemia, various causes of thrombocytopenia, and leukemia. Therefore, their presence should not be ignored.


Petechiae on the face and conjunctiva (eyes) are a sign of a death by asphyxiation. They are thought to result from an increase of pressure in the veins of the head and hypoxic damage to endothelial of blood vessels.


petechia in Catalan: Petèquia
petechia in German: Petechien
petechia in Spanish: Petequia
petechia in French: Pétéchie
petechia in Dutch: Petechiën
petechia in Japanese: 点状出血
petechia in Norwegian: Petekkier
petechia in Polish: Wybroczyny
petechia in Portuguese: Petéquia
petechia in Chinese: 瘀點
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