Thrombocytopenic Purpura

What is thrombocytopenic purpura?

Thrombocytopenic (throm-bo-si-to-PE-nik) purpura (PER-pu-rah) is a bleeding disorder where there are too few platelets in the blood. Platelets are blood cells that help stop bleeding by sticking together to form a clot. Thrombocytopenic purpura is also called immune or idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) and may affect women more often than men. Affected people may not know that they have ITP early in the disease. Signs of bleeding may develop slowly over a long period of time. ITP is often a mild disease, but there may be times that bleeding can be severe and life-threatening. Diagnosing and treating ITP as soon as possible is important in controlling your ITP.

What causes thrombocytopenic purpura?

Caregivers do not exactly know what causes ITP. It is thought that problems in the body's immune system may cause ITP. The immune system is the part of the body that fights infection. Normally, the immune system makes antibodies or substances that destroy germs, such as virus and bacteria. With ITP, antibodies stick to the platelets, so that the spleen or liver mistakenly destroys them as well. Any of the following may trigger the immune system to cause ITP:

  • Infection by a germ, called a virus.

  • Medicines, such as antibiotics, blood thinners, and medicines for cholesterol or seizures.

  • Vaccines, such as those for measles, mumps and rubella.

What are the signs and symptoms of thrombocytopenic purpura?

Signs of ITP may include petichiae (pinpoint, reddish spots) and purpura (purplish flat areas of bruising). There may also be bleeding from the gums, mouth or nose. Stools (bowel movements) may be dark-colored or may have blood in them. Women with ITP may have heavy bleeding during their monthly periods.

How is thrombocytopenic purpura diagnosed?

You may need the following tests:

  • Blood tests: You may need blood taken to give caregivers information about how your body is working. The blood may be taken from your hand, arm, or IV.

  • Bone marrow biopsy: This is when a sample of bone marrow is removed and sent to a lab for tests. Bone marrow is the soft, spongy tissue inside the bone. The skin over your upper hipbone is first cleaned. Caregivers put numbing medicine into your skin so you will have little pain. A bandage is put on the biopsy area after the tissue sample is taken.

How is thrombocytopenic purpura treated?

Watchful waiting and frequent check-ups may be all that is needed if the ITP is mild. Caregivers may want to watch for changes in the number of your platelets before starting any treatment. They may also want to know the medicines you are taking. Bring a list or the bottles of your medicines with you when you see your caregiver. You may have one or more of the following:

  • Immune globulins: This medicine is given as a shot or an IV infusion to make your immune system stronger. You may need immune globulins to treat or prevent an infection. It is also used when you have a chronic condition, such as lupus or arthritis. You may need many weeks of treatment. Each infusion can take from 2 to 5 hours.

  • Steroids: This medicine may be given to decrease inflammation.

  • Surgery: Surgery to remove the spleen may be done. This surgery is called a splenectomy. Ask your caregiver for more information about surgery as a treatment for ITP.
Your treatment may change if your signs and symptoms are not being controlled even after taking medicines. This may be decided by your caregiver after you have further tests. You may have any of the following if your signs and symptoms are not being controlled:
  • Blood transfusion: You will get whole or parts of blood through an IV during a transfusion. Blood is tested for diseases, such as hepatitis and HIV, to be sure it is safe.

  • Medicines: Additional medicines may be needed to treat your ITP. These may include immunosuppressants, chemotherapeutic agents, and hormones. Ask your caregiver for more information about other treatment options for ITP.
With treatment, such as medicine and surgery, you may have an improved quality of life.

What can I do to prevent bleeding?

  • Wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace stating that you have thrombocytopenic purpura. You may get one from the local drugstore or contact the MedicAlert Foundation:
    • MedicAlert Foundation
      2323 Colorado Avenue
      Turlock , CA 95382
      Phone: 1- 888 - 633-4298
      Web Address:

  • Avoid playing contact sports. This may cause skin bruising and head injuries, which may lead to bleeding.

  • Avoid taking medicines without your caregiver's OK. Aspirin, ibuprofen, and antihistamines may cause bleeding and should be avoided. Ask your caregiver before taking any medicines other than those he has given you.

  • If you are having hard, dry stools that are difficult to pass, you may be constipated. Constipation may cause bleeding in your bowel movement (BM). Eat fresh fruit, high fiber foods, and plenty of water to avoid constipation. Ask your caregiver for more information about preventing and treating constipation.

  • Use a soft-bristled toothbrush to prevent bleeding gums. Brush your teeth slowly and gently as this may prevent bleeding gums. Use lip balms to prevent your lips from drying and cracking.

  • Use lotion on your dry skin. This may prevent itching and scratching, which may lead to bruising.

Where can I find support and more information?

Having thrombocytopenic purpura may be a life-changing disease for you and your family. Accepting that you have thrombocytopenic purpura may be hard. You and those close to you may feel angry, sad, or frightened. These feelings are normal. Talk to your caregivers, family, or friends about your feelings. You may also want to join a support group for people who have thrombocytopenic purpura. Contact the following for more information:

  • National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute
    Health Information Center
    P.O. Box 30105
    Bethesda , MD 20824-0105
    Phone: 1- 301 - 592-8573
    Web Address:
  • National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)
    Building 31, room 9A04 Center Drive, MSC 2560
    Bethesda , MD 208922560
    Web Address:
  • American Academy of Family Physicians
    11400 Tomahawk Creek Parkway
    Leawood , KS 66211-2680
    Phone: 1- 913 - 906-6000
    Phone: 1- 800 - 274-2237
    Web Address:

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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