What you need to know about living with a low platelet count

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Platelets are small cells that travel through the bloodstream. Like other blood cells, platelets are made in the bone marrow .

Platelets are clotting cells. They stick together after injury to slow and stop bleeding.

People with thrombocytopenia have low platelet counts. This reduces the ability to clot and stop bleeding. If you have this condition, it is important to understand how it affects your health and what you can do to stay healthy.

This article looks at normal and abnormal platelet counts, some of the causes of low platelet counts, and the symptoms you may experience. It also describes strategies for managing this disease and how to treat it.

Artist's red blood cell image.

Virusowy / Getty Images

Normal and abnormal platelet count

A complete blood count (CBC) is a standard panel of blood tests. The platelet count is one of the indicators of this test. Here's what the different platelet counts mean:

  • Norm: 150,000 to 450,000 platelets per microliter of blood.
  • Low: less than 150,000 platelets per microliter
  • Moderate bleeding risk: less than 50,000 platelets per microliter
  • Severe bleeding risk: 10,000 to 20,000 platelets per microliter or less.

Genetic causes of low platelet count

Thrombocytopenia can be genetic, which means it runs in the family. Genetic forms are rare. They are sometimes confused with other forms of the disease.

Platelet dysfunction or destruction.

Your body can make enough platelets on its own, but certain conditions and medications can destroy them or prevent them from working properly (dysfunction).

Autoimmune diseases

When you have an autoimmune disease , your immune system attacks healthy cells. Diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis can cause the immune system to destroy platelets.

Bacterial infections of the blood

Bacteremia , also called blood poisoning, is a bacterial infection that infects the blood. This infection can cause a decrease in platelets.

Medicine

Blood thinners are medicines that prevent blood from clotting. ADD-Vantage Sodium Heparin (heparin) is an example of this type of medicine.

Decreased platelet production.

Thrombocytopenia can also occur when your body does not make enough platelets. This can happen for a number of reasons.

The pregnancy

Gestational thrombocytopenia is quite common during the third trimester of pregnancy. This is due to increased blood volume.

The platelet count in this condition remains the same, but because the blood volume is larger, the platelets are more dilute. There is generally little risk of serious bleeding.

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are common cancer treatments. They are very effective in killing cancer cells. Unfortunately, they cannot tell cancer cells from healthy ones.

These treatments target any cells that reproduce rapidly. This includes cells from the bone marrow . Cancer treatments can inadvertently kill the bone marrow cells that make platelets. When this happens, your body will not be able to make the platelets it needs.

Leukemia

Blood cancer can also cause a decrease in platelets. When cancer cells invade the bone marrow, the cancer cells can push out the healthy cells. This will affect platelet production.

Lack of nutrition

Poor nutrition can lower your platelet count. Your body needs nutrients like vitamin B12 and folic acid to make platelets.

Viral infections

Certain viral infections, such as hepatitis C or HIV , can interfere with the formation of platelets in the bone marrow.

Excessive alcohol consumption

Excessive alcohol consumption can cause malnutrition when your body is not getting enough nutrients.

People who drink a lot of alcohol can have bone marrow abnormalities. When this happens, your body has trouble making new platelets. Alcohol itself can be toxic to the bone marrow.

Summary

Many conditions can cause decreased platelet production. These conditions often prevent the bone marrow from making platelets.

Certain viruses, a poor diet, and heavy alcohol use can affect your body's ability to make platelets. Blood cancer and cancer treatments can also have this effect.

Enlarged spleen

Several conditions can cause an enlarged spleen . A healthy spleen stores up to one third of the body's platelets.

An enlarged spleen can trap platelets. This will prevent them from entering the bloodstream.

Low platelet count symptoms

A low platelet count can cause a variety of symptoms. Call your doctor if you notice these problems or if they become more frequent or serious:

  • Mild bruising, also called purpura .
  • Petechiae , small red spots on the skin.
  • Excessive bleeding even after minor injuries.
  • Joint pain, especially in large joints such as knees and hips.
  • Frequent nosebleeds
  • Bleeding from the mouth or gums.
  • Blood in urine or stool
  • Headache

It is important that you call your doctor immediately if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Headache, confusion, or dizziness
  • Blood from coughing or shortness of breath
  • Blood in urine, vomit, or stool.
  • Vaginal bleeding after menopause or unusually heavy vaginal bleeding

Low platelet management

You can limit problems caused by a low platelet count by taking steps to reduce the risk of bleeding:

  • Avoid taking certain medications. This includes non-steroidal anti -inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and Advil ( ibuprofen ). If you are taking blood thinners, ask your doctor about the risk of bleeding.
  • Use an electric razor to shave. This can result in fewer cuts and cuts.
  • Take special care when working with sharp objects such as knives or scissors.
  • Avoid contact sports.
  • Use a super soft toothbrush. Sore gums bleed easier when flossing. Taking good care of your oral cavity will reduce gum inflammation. Don't floss when your platelet count is very low.
  • Blow your nose gently. This will help prevent nosebleeds.
  • Limit or avoid alcohol consumption.

Summary

You can limit problems caused by low platelet count by taking steps to prevent injury. It also helps you avoid certain medications and limit your alcohol consumption.

What to do if you start to bleed

Bleeding can be a serious problem for people with low platelet counts. If you start to bleed, see your doctor right away. To minimize bleeding, follow these steps:

  • Sit or lie down. Try to stay calm.
  • If you see a wound, press down.
  • Apply an ice pack to the area to decrease bleeding.
  • If the wound is on an arm or leg, raise the limb above the level of the heart.
  • If you see blood in your urine, increase your fluid intake and see your doctor immediately.
  • If you notice blood in your vomit, see your doctor. Take nausea and antacid medications as directed by your doctor.
  • If you have vaginal bleeding, do not use tampons. Keep track of the number of sanitary pads you use. Pay attention to lumps.

Summary

If you have a low platelet count and start bleeding, see your doctor right away. Bleeding can be minimized by applying pressure and / or ice and lifting the wound.

Low platelet treatment

It is important to determine the cause of the low platelet count. When the cause is clear, treatment can usually help bring your level back to normal.

If you are receiving therapy that affects your platelet count, such as cancer treatment, your platelets should return to normal after treatment ends. Keep in mind that time is different for everyone.

Sometimes platelet transfusion it can be necessary. This is a procedure where you receive platelets from a donor through a vein. Blood transfusion can help prevent bleeding.

Autoimmune diseases can be treated with drugs that suppress your immune system. This will help stop the destruction of platelets.

When the medication is causing the low platelet count, the solution is often to simply change the medication. Your doctor will help you find the right alternative medicine.

Summary

When the cause is known, low platelet counts usually go away with treatment. You may need to change your medicine or wait until treatment, such as chemotherapy, is finished. Sometimes a platelet transfusion is required.

Summary

People with thrombocytopenia have a low platelet count. This can cause heavy bleeding.

Low platelets can be genetic. However, low platelet counts are usually caused by conditions that break down or prevent the formation of platelets. Certain medications or treatments, such as cancer treatments, can also cause a low platelet count.

People with low platelet counts have a variety of symptoms, including heavy bleeding and easy bruising. Low platelet counts can be controlled by avoiding situations that can cause bleeding.

The condition usually improves when the cause is identified and the patient is treated.

Low platelet count or thrombocytopenia is a common side effect of blood cancer and its treatment. They can also be caused by autoimmune diseases, pregnancy, excessive alcohol consumption, or certain medications.

When you have a low platelet count, you may have frequent or excessive bleeding. It is important to try to avoid injury. This will help prevent dangerous complications.

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