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Thrombocytopenia

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Mar 11, 2022.

What is Thrombocytopenia?

Harvard Health Publishing

Thrombocytopenia is an abnormally low level of platelets in the blood.  

Platelets are made by the bone marrow. They help your blood to clot. People with thrombocytopenia can have excessive bleeding.  

This condition can occur in varying degrees. The risk of bleeding increases as the platelet count decreases.  

Thrombocytopenia can occur alone. Or, it can develop as a complication of another disease, such as cancer or a viral infection. In some cases, it is a chronic (long-lasting) condition that persists for years. In other cases, it develops suddenly and dramatically.  

In general, thrombocytopenia develops for one or more of the following reasons:  

Symptoms

People with severe thrombocytopenia may have abnormal bleeding almost anywhere in the body.  

Symptoms can include:  

Diagnosis

Your doctor will begin by asking you about your medical history. He or she will ask about: 

Your doctor will examine you for specific signs of abnormal bleeding. These include bruises or blood spots in your skin. He or she also will feel your abdomen to determine whether your spleen is enlarged. The doctor will look for any signs of liver disease.  

To confirm the diagnosis, your doctor will order a blood test. The blood test will measure the number of platelets in your blood. Additional blood tests will be ordered at the same time to help diagnose why you have thrombocytopenia. 

If your doctor thinks you may be having a reaction to a drug, he or she may ask you to stop taking the medication. The doctor will then see if your platelet count rises. If that happens, you have drug-induced thrombocytopenia.  

Your doctor may recommend a bone marrow biopsy. In this procedure, a long needle is used to remove a small piece of bone marrow. The marrow is examined in a laboratory. The appearance of your bone marrow and platelet-producing cells help to determine what is causing your problem. 

Expected Duration

How long thrombocytopenia lasts depends on its cause.  

For example, some patients with chronic ITP experience years of easy bruising and abnormally heavy vaginal bleeding. They may have repeated episodes of more severe bleeding.  

Most children with acute ITP recover within four to six weeks. 

Some people have such mild disease that they almost never have noticeable bleeding problems.  

Many people with drug-induced thrombocytopenia recover within 7 to 10 days after they stop taking the medication. 

Prevention

Many cases of thrombocytopenia cannot be prevented.  

You can avoid drinking large amounts of alcohol to lower your risk of developing alcohol-related thrombocytopenia.  

If you already have had one episode of drug-induced thrombocytopenia, the problem is likely to return if you take the same medication again. To help prevent this, record the name of the specific medication that caused the problem. Tell every health care professional that you visit about your sensitivity to this drug.  

If your doctor has determined that you are at risk of developing this condition, he or she may tell you not to take aspirin or other anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen. That is because these medicines impair platelet function.

Treatment

How thrombocytopenia is treated depends on its cause and severity.  

If your thrombocytopenia is mild and is not causing any significant bleeding, you may not need treatment. This is often the standard strategy in children with acute ITP. 

If your thrombocytopenia is drug induced, your physician may change your prescription. Most people recover without additional treatment after they stop taking the medication.  

Patients with very low platelet counts and/or significant bleeding will need more aggressive treatment. Options for treatment include:  

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

When To Call A Professional

Call your doctor if you develop any of the symptoms of thrombocytopenia. Be sure to call if you notice abnormal bruises or if you experience significant bleeding from your nose, mouth, vagina, rectum or urinary tract.

Prognosis

The overall outlook is generally good. This is especially true if the cause can be identified and removed. Long-term management of the condition is often successful.

Additional Info

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/


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