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Immune Thrombocytopenia


What is immune thrombocytopenia?

Immune thrombocytopenia is a bleeding disorder. Immune thrombocytopenia may happen when your immune system attacks and destroys your platelets. This causes low platelet levels. Platelets are cells that help the blood clot or stop bleeding. When platelet levels are low, bleeding may occur anywhere in your body. Immune thrombocytopenia may also be called idiopathic thrombocytopenia or ITP.

What increases my risk for immune thrombocytopenia?

  • An immune system disorder, such as an autoimmune disease, lupus, or HIV
  • A recent viral infection or bacterial infection such as measles or H pylori
  • Pregnancy
  • Medicines that cause low platelet levels such as medicine for seizures
  • Rarely, vaccines, such as those for measles, mumps, and rubella

What are the signs and symptoms of immune thrombocytopenia?

Your signs and symptoms will depend on your platelet levels. You may have no symptoms if your platelet levels are normal. You may have any of the following:

  • Bruising or tiny red or purple spots (purpura) on the skin or mucus membranes
  • Bleeding from your gums or nose
  • Heavy menstrual bleeding in women
  • Blood in your urine or bowel movements

How is immune thrombocytopenia diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine you and ask about your symptoms. Tell him about any medicines or supplements that you take. Blood tests may be done to check your platelet levels and how fast your blood clots.

How is immune thrombocytopenia treated?

Treatment will depend on your platelet levels and symptoms. You may not need treatment, or you may need any of the following:

  • Medicines may be given to stop your immune system from destroying platelets. Medicine may also be given to help increase platelet levels and prevent bleeding.
  • Platelet transfusions may be given if your platelet levels are low. Platelet transfusions may also help stop heavy bleeding. You may be given platelet transfusions before procedures or surgeries to help your blood clot.
  • Surgery to remove your spleen is rarely needed but may be done to stop your body from destroying platelets.

What can I do to care for myself?

  • Care for your skin. Use a soft toothbrush to keep your skin and gums from bleeding. Use lip balm to prevent your lips from cracking. Use a soft washcloth during baths or showers. Apply lotion to dry skin. Do not cut your nails too short. If you shave, use an electric shaver. Wear slippers or shoes to protect your feet.
  • Do not do activities that may cause injury. Ask your healthcare provider what activities are safe to do. You may not be able to play contact sports such as football, hockey, or wrestling.
  • Do not take aspirin or NSAIDs. These medicines can lower platelet levels. This may cause you to bleed and bruise more easily.
  • Care for cuts, scrapes, or nosebleeds. Apply firm, steady, pressure to cuts or scrapes. Use gauze or a clean towel. If possible, elevate the body part above the level of your heart. If your nose bleeds, pinch the top of your nose and your nostrils. Do this until bleeding stops.
  • Carry medical alert identification. Wear jewelry or carry a card that says you have thrombocytopenia. Ask your healthcare provider where to get these items.

Call 911 or have someone else call for any of the following:

  • You have any of the following signs of a heart attack:
    • Squeezing, pressure, or pain in your chest
    • You may also have any of the following:
      • Discomfort or pain in your back, neck, jaw, stomach, or arm
      • Shortness of breath
      • Nausea or vomiting
      • Lightheadedness or a sudden cold sweat
  • You have any of the following signs of a stroke:
    • Numbness or drooping on one side of your face
    • Weakness in an arm or leg
    • Confusion or difficulty speaking
    • Dizziness, a severe headache, or vision loss
  • You fall and hit your head.
  • You have a seizure.
  • You cannot be woken.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have bleeding that does not stop or becomes heavier.
  • You have a bruise that suddenly gets larger.
  • You vomit blood or material that looks like coffee grounds.
  • Your arm or leg feels looks bigger than normal and is warm or painful.
  • You suddenly feel lightheaded, dizzy, or weak.
  • You become confused or have trouble thinking clearly.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have bleeding from your gums, mouth, or nose.
  • You have irregular or heavy menstrual bleeding.
  • You have blood in your urine or bowel movement.
  • You have abdominal pain.
  • You see new bruises or small red or purple spots on your skin.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

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 healthcare providers 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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