HomeHealth A-ZThrombocytopenia (Low Platelet Count) : Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Thrombocytopenia (Low Platelet Count) : Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Overview

Thrombocytopenia is a condition wherein your blood platelet count is lower than normal . Thrombocytopenia may occur due to a bone marrow disorder like leukemia or an immune system condition or a side effect of some medicine. 

What is Thrombocytopenia?

Blood, a specialized body fluid, has four main components namely, plasma, red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. The three types of cells are white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets (also known as thrombocytes). Platelets enable the formation of blood clots to prevent excessive loss of blood that an injury or disease can cause.

Certain cancers, medication, and autoimmune diseases can cause this condition. It can range from mild to severe and affects both children and adults.

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What Are The Symptoms Associated With Thrombocytopenia?

One of the first signs of a low platelet count is a cut or nose bleed that won’t stop. Other signs include:

This condition can also lead to bleeding in the brain, but this is a rare occurrence.

What Are The Causes of Thrombocytopenia?

In some cases, this condition can be hereditary. More commonly, the diseases, conditions and medications that cause a low platelet count are:

  • Cancer treatments like radiation and chemotherapy
  • Enlarged spleen
  • Bone marrow diseases
  • Exposure to toxic substances like pesticides and benzene
  • Viruses such as hepatitis C and HIV 
  • Certain autoimmune diseases
  • Alcoholism
  • Medications that are used to treat heart problems, bacterial infections and seizures (these include antibiotics and blood thinners)

Most often, people are unaware that they have this condition. Bleeding that can’t be controlled by applying pressure to the area is a medical emergency. In such cases, consult a doctor at the earliest.

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What Are the Types of Thrombocytopenia?

Having Thrombocytopenia means that fewer than 150,000 platelets are circulating in your bloodstream. Each platelet generally has a lifespan of 10 days. The body keeps renewing platelets by producing more. There may be three different reasons for a low platelet count, namely:

Platelet Destruction: Certain conditions cause the destruction of platelets at a much faster pace than at which they’re produced. This is also known as an increased breakdown of platelets. 

Certain conditions may trigger your body to use up or destroy the platelets faster than they are produced. This leads to shortage of platelets in the bloodstream. Few examples of such conditions include:

  1. Medications: Some medicines like anticonvulsants, quinine, heparin and sulfa-containing antibiotics can reduce the number of platelets in the blood. 
  2. Pregnancy: Thrombocytopenia caused by pregnancy is generally mild in the beginning and improves soon after the childbirth 
  3. Immune thrombocytopenia: Autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, cause immune thrombocytopenia. The immune system of your body attacks and destroys platelets mistakenly. If the exact cause of this disease is not known, it is known ans idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura. This type affects children more often. 
  4. Thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura: A rare condition, this type occurs when small blood clots are suddenly formed throughout the body, using up the large numbers of platelets
  5. Bacteria in the blood: Severe bacterial infections involvingblood (bacteremia) may destroy platelets
  6. Hemolytic uremic syndrome: A rare disorder, hemolytic uremic syndrome causes a steep drop in latelets, destruction of red blood cells and damages kidney function
  7. Platelet sequestration: This is caused by an enlarged spleen. Usually, the spleen helps in fighting infection and is about the size of your fist. When it expands, it retains too many platelets, thereby reducing the number in circulation
  8. Decreased platelet production: The above-mentioned conditions can lead to a drop in the production of platelets, thereby registering a low platelet count

How is This Condition Diagnosed?

A physical exam and reviewing your medical and family history will help your doctor spot immediate signs like rashes, bruises or an enlarged spleen . A complete blood count (CBC) is and bleeding time to check if your platelet count is low. 

In some cases, a biopsy of your bone marrow and imaging tests like an ultrasound and CT scan can help ascertain the severity of your condition.

How is Thrombocytopenia Treated?

The most suitable treatment method depends on the cause and severity of the condition. In some mild cases, your doctor may simply choose to monitor you. You may be asked to take certain measures to prevent your condition from worsening, such as:

  • Limiting alcohol consumption
  • Avoiding contact sports like football
  • Stopping medications that affect platelet count

Some other treatment options include:

  • Blood or platelet transfusion: The blood lost is replaced with packed red blood cells or platelets. These last about three days in circulation.
  • Medications: Certain drugs like corticosteroids may be prescribed by your doctor to boost your platelet count. 
  • Surgery: If other treatments fail, a splenectomy (removal of the spleen) may be recommended.
To understand Thrombocytopenia better, consult a doctor at the earliest. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Who can get Thrombocytopenia?

A: This condition can affect people of all ages. About 5% of pregnant women develop a mild case of Thrombocytopenia before childbirth.

What are some of the complications from Thrombocytopenia?

A: People with severe symptoms are at high risk for significant external and internal bleeding. Intracranial haemorrhage (bleeding in the brain) can be another life-threatening complication.

What is the difference between thrombocytosis and Thrombocytopenia?

A: In Thrombocytosis, complications are caused by the presence of excessive platelets in the bloodstream whereas Thrombocytopenia is the exact opposite, denoted by a low platelet count.

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