Low Platelet Count

Low Platelet Count: What Is It?

The blood have many different types of cells, which float in plasma. The different cells are:

  • White blood cells
  • Red blood cells
  • Thrombocytes or platelets

The platelets are in charge of clotting when the skin is broken or injured so that you don’t bleed out. If you do not have enough of them, your body cannot clot and you will keep bleeding.

Having a low platelet count is also known as thrombocytopenia and ranges between mild and severe. The severity depends on the cause. There are many symptoms including severe bleeding that can cause death if it is not treated. Some patients will not have any symptoms at all.

There is usually another medical reason for the low platelet count, such as leukemia, or it is just to medication. Before you can treat it, you need to find the reason for it.

Low Platelet Count Causes

There are a number of reasons for a low amount of platelets in the blood. One of those is when the bone marrow simply doesn’t produce enough of them.

It could also be that your body breaks them down much faster. Mayo Clinic states that platelets have a lifespan of about 10 days when the body is healthy but there are conditions that shorten that lifespan.

Problems with the bone marrow:

This is the tissue within the bone that’s a bit like a sponge. It’s where all the blood components are produced. If it cannot produce enough platelets, the count will be low and this could be because of:

  • A deficiency in vitamin B12
  • A deficiency in iron
  • Aplastic anemia
  • Viral infections like chicken pox, Espetin-Barr or HIV
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals, chemotherapy or radiation
  • Cirrhosis
  • Leukemia
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Myelodysplasia

Platelet destruction:

It is also possible to suffer from a low platelet count because the body is destroying them. This is often a side effect or symptom of:

  • Some medications, like anti-seizure ones and diuretics
  • Pregnancy
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Hypersplenism when the spleen is enlarged
  • Bacterial infections in the blood
  • Thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP)
  • Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP)
  • Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC)
  • Hemolytic uremic syndrome

Low Platelet Count Symptoms

The symptoms you experience will depend on the level of your platelet count.

When a low platelet count is mild, often due to pregnancy, the symptoms will be rare. Uncontrollable bleeding and needing urgent medical attention occurs in those who have a more severe problem.

Symptoms can include:

  • Brown, red and purple bruises (purpura)
  • Nosebleeds
  • Rashes with small purple or red dots (petechiae)
  • Prolonged bleeding from wounds or the bleeding won’t stop on its own
  • Bleeding gums
  • Heavy menstrual bleeds
  • Blood in stools/urine
  • Blood from the rectum

In some of the more serious cases there may be some internal bleeding, which can be found from blood in the rectum, stools or urine.

You should seek immediate medical attention if you have these symptoms.

On rare occasions, it can lead to the brain bleeding. You should talk to your doctor immediately if you have any neurological problems or headaches and a low platelet count.

Diagnosing Low Platelet Count

The first stage for diagnosing the low count is a physical exam. Your doctor will look for any strange bruising or any petechiae that appears.

Your doctor may want to check your abdomen to see if your spleen has become enlarged. He will ask you about your family history and whether there is anything linked to bleeding disorders as it is common for these types of disorders to run through relatives.

Blood tests:

The only way to diagnose the problem is to take a complete blood count (CBC), which will check the level of cells in the blood. Your doctor will be informed if there is a lower count than expected.

You may be tested for any platelet antibodies in your system. These are the proteins that destroy the platelets and are developed by the body. The production can be a side effect of some types of medication, like quinine, but there are no known reasons for this.

Another test is a blood-clotting one. This includes prothrombin time (PT) and partial thromboplastin time (PTT) and needs a small sample of the blood. Chemicals are added to help test the length of time it takes to clot.

Ultrasounds:

You may have an ultrasound to check the size of your spleen. This is a harmless and painless test using sound waves to get a picture of your inner organs.

Bone marrow biopsy and aspiration:

When the causes are thought to be linked to the bone marrow, your doctor may order for an aspiration to be taken. This uses a need to take some of the marrow from your bones.

Your doctor may also choose to do a biopsy, which usually takes the marrow from the hip as a sample. It can be done at the same time as the aspiration.

Low Platelet Count Treatment

The treatment fully depends on the severity and reason for the low platelet count. Those with a mild issue may find that no treatment is given and the doctor monitors you.

There are some precautions that doctors suggest to avoid it getting worse or causing adverse symptoms including:

  • Avoiding all contact sports
  • Limiting the amount of alcohol drank
  • Avoiding all activities where there is a risk of bruising or bleeding
  • Switching/stopping medications affecting the platelet count, such as ibuprofen and aspirin

Those with a more severe condition may need some type of treatment, including:

  • Changing any medication causing the low count
  • Taking immune globulin
  • Taking steroids
  • Using corticosteroids to help block the antibodies working against the platelets
  • Blood/platelet transfusions
  • Taking immune suppressants
  • Removing the spleen (splenectomy)