Skip to main content

Immune Thrombocytopenia

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Oct 3, 2022.

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 if your platelet level is low:

  • 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 or her about any medicines or supplements 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.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

What can I do to prevent or manage bleeding?

  • Care for cuts, scrapes, or nosebleeds. Examine your skin for minor bumps, scrapes, and cuts. These injuries can increase your risk for bleeding that can become life-threatening. 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 until bleeding stops.
  • Be careful with skin and mouth care. Use a soft washcloth when you bathe. Use a soft toothbrush to keep your gums from bleeding. Use lip balm to prevent your lips from cracking. Apply lotion to dry skin. Keep your nails trimmed. If you shave, use an electric shaver.
  • Do not strain when you have a bowel movement. The strain can increase pressure in your brain and cause bleeding. Ask your healthcare provider about a stool softener or laxative if you are constipated. Do not use enemas or suppositories.
  • Use a cool mist humidifier to increase moisture in your home. Moisture may help prevent coughing or nosebleeds. Coughing can increase pressure in your brain and could cause bleeding.
  • Avoid activities that may cause scratches or bruises. You may not be able to play contact sports such as football, hockey, or wrestling. Ask your healthcare provider which activities are safe for you.
  • Do not take aspirin or NSAIDs. These medicines can cause you to bleed and bruise more easily.

What do I need to know about medical alert identification?

Wear medical alert jewelry or carry a card that says you have thrombocytopenia. Ask your healthcare provider where to get these items.

Medical Alert Jewelry

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) or have someone call if:

  • 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 call my doctor?

  • 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.

Ā© Copyright IBM Corporation 2022 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotesĀ® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

Learn more about Immune Thrombocytopenia

Treatment options

Care guides

Symptoms and treatments

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.