Thrombocytopenia is a condition that is characterized when your blood has a lower amount of blood cell fragments called platelets than the normal number.
Platelets are produced in your bone marrow along with other types of blood cells. They regulate through your blood vessels and combine together to stop any bleeding that may occur if a blood vessel is ruptured. Platelets also are known as thrombocytes because a clot also is called a thrombus.
Causes of thrombocytopenia
Many factors can cause thrombocytopenia. The condition can be either inherited or acquired.
In general, thrombocytopenia occurs because:
- The body's bone marrow doesn't form enough platelets.
- The bone marrow forms enough platelets, but the body finishes them or uses them up.
- The spleen holds on to too many platelets.
A combination of the above factors may also cause thrombocytopenia.
Signs and symptoms of thrombocytopenia
Mild to serious bleeding is the main cause of the signs and symptoms shown in case of thrombocytopenia. Bleeding can occur inside your body or underneath your skin or from the surface of your skin.
Signs and symptoms of the disease can be seen suddenly or with time. Often mild thrombocytopenia has no signs or symptoms. Most of the times, it is found during a routine blood test.
Check with your doctor if you have any signs of bleeding. Major thrombocytopenia can cause bleeding in almost any part of the body.
Usually, external bleeding is the first sign of a low platelet count. External bleeding may cause purpura or petechiae. Purpura is purple, brown, and red bruises. This bruising may happen easily and often. Petechiae are small red or purple dots on your skin.
Other signs of external bleeding include:
- Prolonged bleeding, even from minor cuts
- Nosebleeds or bleeding from brushing your teeth
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding (especially heavy menstrual flow)
Heavy bleeding within the intestines or the brain is serious and can be fatal. Signs and symptoms include:
- If blood is found in the urine or stool or bleeding from the rectum. Blood in the stool can appear as red blood or as a dark, tarry color.
- Headaches and other neurological symptoms.
Treatment for thrombocytopenia
The treatment of thrombocytopenia relies on its own cause and condition. The treatment is done to prevent death and disability caused by bleeding.
If your condition is mild, you may not need treatment. A fully normal platelet count isn't necessary to prevent bleeding, even with severe cuts or accidents.
When the underlying cause of thrombocytopenia is treated, it often improves at faster rate. The people who inherit this condition usually don't need any kind of treatment.
If your immune system is causing a low platelet count, your doctor may prescribe medicines to suppress the immune system.
If your thrombocytopenia is major, your doctor may prescribe different treatments like medicines, blood or platelet transfusions, or splenectomy.
Your doctor may prescribe corticosteroids, also called steroids for short. Steroids may slow platelet destruction. These medicines can be given through a vein or by mouth. One example of this type of medicine is prednisone.
The steroids that are used to treat thrombocytopenia are different from illegal steroids taken by some athletes to enhance their performance.
Your doctor may prescribe some of the immunoglobulins or medicines like rituximab to obstruct your immune system. These medicines are provided through a vein.
The doctor also may prescribe different medicines like eltrombopag or romiplostim to help your body make more platelets. The former comes as a tablet to take by mouth and the latter is given as an injection under the skin.
Blood or Platelet Transfusions
Generally, blood or platelet transfusions are used to treat people who have active bleeding or are at a high risk of bleeding. During this procedure, a needle is used to insert an intravenous (IV) line into one of your blood vessels. Through this line, you receive healthy blood or platelets.
A splenectomy is surgery to extract the spleen. This surgery can be used if treatment with medicines doesn't work properly. Mostly this surgery is used for adults who have immune thrombocytopenia (ITP). However, medicines often are the first course of treatment.