What is thrombocytopenia? – Low Platelet Count

It is any disorder in which there is an abnormally low amount of platelets

Platelets are parts of the blood that help clotting. This condition is sometimes associated with abnormal bleeding.

Thrombocytopenia is a condition in which the patient has a low platelet count in the blood . Platelets (thrombocytes) are colorless blood cells that help the blood clot.

The platelets stop the bleeding by agglomeration and formation of plugs in the lesions of the blood vessels.

Thrombocytopenia often occurs as a result of a major disorder, such as leukemia or a problem with the immune system. Or it can be a side effect of taking certain medications.

It affects both children and adults.

Thrombocytopenia can be mild and cause few signs or symptoms. In rare cases, the number of platelets can be so low that dangerous internal bleeding occurs.

There are treatment options available.

What are your symptoms?

Signs and symptoms of thrombocytopenia may include:

  • Bruises
  • Superficial bleeding on the skin that appears as a purple spotting rash (petechiae), usually on the legs.
  • Prolonged bleeding due to cuts.
  • Bleeding from the gums or nose.
  • Blood in urine or stool.
  • Unusually abundant menstrual flow.
  • Fatigue.
  • Enlarged spleen
  • Jaundice.

When to consult a doctor?

Bleeding that does not stop is a medical emergency. Seek immediate help if you experience bleeding that can not be controlled by standard first aid techniques, such as applying pressure to the area.

What are your causes?

If for some reason your platelet count drops below normal, the condition is called thrombocytopenia. Normally the count is between 150,000 and 450,000 platelets per micro liter of circulating blood.

Because each platelet lives only about 10 days, your body continually renews its platelet supply by producing new platelets in the bone marrow.

Thrombocytopenia can be hereditary or it can be caused by a series of medications or conditions.

Whatever the cause, circulating platelets are reduced by one or more of the following procedures: blockage of platelets in the spleen, decreased platelet production or increased destruction of platelets.

Platelets in the spleen.

The spleen is a small organ the size of your fist located just below the rib cage on the left side of the abdomen. Normally, the spleen works to fight infection and filter unwanted blood material.

An enlarged spleen – which can be caused by a series of disorders – can harbor too many platelets, causing a decrease in the number of platelets in circulation.

Decrease in platelet production.

Platelets are produced in the bone marrow. If production is low, thrombocytopenia may develop. Factors that can decrease the production of platelets include:

  • Leukemia.
  • Some types of anemia.
  • Viral infections, such as hepatitis C or HIV.
  • Chemotherapy.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption.

Some conditions can cause the body to use or destroy platelets more quickly than they are produced. This leads to a shortage of platelets in the bloodstream.

Examples of such conditions include:

Pregnancy . Thrombocytopenia caused by pregnancy is usually mild and improves soon after delivery.

Immune thrombocytopenia . This type is caused by autoimmune diseases, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. The body’s immune system attacks and destroys platelets by mistake.

If the exact cause of this condition is not known, it is called idiopathic thrombocytopenia . This type most often affects children.

The bacteria in the blood . Serious bacterial infections that affect the blood ( bacteremia ) can lead to the destruction of platelets.

Thrombotic thrombocytopenia . This is a rare condition that occurs when small blood clots suddenly form throughout the body, using a large number of platelets.

Hemolytic uremic syndrome . This rare disorder causes a sharp drop in platelets, destruction of red blood cells and deterioration of kidney function.

It can sometimes occur in association with a bacterial infection by Escherichia coli (E. coli), such as that acquired by eating raw or undercooked meat.

Drugs . Certain medications can reduce the number of platelets in the blood. Sometimes a drug confuses the immune system and causes it to destroy platelets.

Examples include heparin (known as heparin rhombocytopenia), quinine, sulfa-containing antibiotics and anticonvulsants.

Are there complications?

Dangerous internal bleeding can occur when the platelet count falls below 10,000 platelets per micro liter. Although rare, severe thrombocytopenia can cause bleeding in the brain, which can be fatal.

Preparing for the appointment with the doctor

Start by seeing your GP if you have any signs or symptoms that worry you. Most cases of thrombocytopenia can be managed by a general practitioner.

In certain situations, he or she may recommend that you see a blood disease specialist (hematologist).

Because appointments can be brief, and because there is often a lot of ground to cover, it is a good idea to be well prepared for the appointment.

Here are some facts to help you prepare and what to expect from your doctor.

What you can do.

  • Be aware of any prior restriction to the appointment. At the time of making the appointment, be sure to ask if there is anything you need to do in advance, such as restricting your diet.
  • List the warning signs you have noticed in your body, such as bruises or unusual bleeding or rashes.
  • Include any signs that may seem unrelated to the reason you scheduled the appointment.
  • List key personal information, including any illness or recent medical procedure, such as a blood transfusion, major stress or recent changes in life.
  • Make a list of all the medications, vitamins and supplements you are taking.
  • Take a family member or friend with you. It can be difficult to remember all the information provided during an appointment. The person who accompanies you can remember something you can forget.
  • Make a list of questions you should ask your doctor. List your questions from the most important to the least important, in case the time runs out.

For thrombocytopenia, some questions you can ask include:

  • How many platelets do I have in my blood?
  • Is my platelet count dangerously low?
  • What is causing my thrombocytopenia?
  • Do I need more tests?
  • Is my condition likely to be temporary or chronic?
  • What are my treatment options?
  • What will happen if I do not do anything?
  • What are the possible side effects of the treatments the doctor is suggesting?
  • Are there any restrictions I must follow?
  • Is there a generic alternative to the medicine that is prescribed to me?
  • Do you have any brochures or other printed material that you can carry with me?
    What websites do you recommend to find more information?

Exams and diagnosis.

The doctor can perform the following tests and procedures to determine if there is thrombocytopenia:

Blood test

A complete blood count determines the number of blood cells, including platelets, in a blood sample.

In adults, the normal platelet count is 150,000 to 450,000 platelets per micro liter of blood. If the complete blood count shows that you have less than 150,000 platelets, you have thrombocytopenia.

Physical exam

Including a complete medical history. The doctor will look for signs of bleeding under the skin and will feel your abdomen to see if the spleen is enlarged.

He or she will also ask about the diseases you have had and the types of medications and supplements you have taken recently.

The doctor may suggest that you undergo other tests and procedures to determine the cause of the condition, depending on the signs and symptoms found.