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How do you increase platelet count during chemotherapy?

Medically reviewed by Carmen Pope, BPharm. Last updated on Dec 13, 2021.

Official answer


Having low platelets (the medical term is thrombocytopenia) during chemotherapy is reasonably common and the most common way to increase platelet count during chemotherapy is to either delay the next dose of chemotherapy or to have a platelet transfusion administered by your healthcare provider.

Drugs that increase platelets are available, but these are only approved for low platelet levels due to an autoimmune condition and are rarely used for chemo-induced low platelet levels. The most commonly used drug is Neumaga (oprelvekin), but Nplate (romiplostim) and Promacta (eltrombopag) are also available.

What is a platelet transfusion?

A platelet transfusion (also called a platelet infusion) is used to prevent or stop ongoing bleeding in people with either low platelet count or poor platelet function. They are the most common way to treat thrombocytopenia, especially short-term thrombocytopenia that occurs as a result of chemotherapy drugs. Transfusions can be used as a therapy (to increase platelets in those who are actively bleeding) or preventively (for those with a low or expected low platelet count but who are not bleeding).

The most common side effect is a temporary fever. Rare side effects such as transfusion reactions, infections, or transmission hepatitis can also occur.

There are two ways that platelets can be collected: by isolating and pooling platelets from units of donated whole blood or by collecting platelets via apheresis directly from a donor. Apheresis is the process of separating blood into its different components: platelets, red blood cells (RBCs), and plasma. Blood from the donor is drawn into a machine, mixed with anticoagulant solution (citrate) to prevent it from clotting, and is then separated in a centrifuge.

Is there a natural way to increase platelet levels?

There are some minerals and vitamins that can help increase a person’s platelet count naturally, although these are best obtained by eating foods naturally rich in them rather than by taking supplements, and include:

  • Folate (vitamin B9)-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables, beans, peanuts, liver, and seafood
  • Foods rich in vitamins B-12, C, D, and K, such as beef, liver, chicken, fish, seafood, citrus, tomatoes, potatoes, egg yolks, and cereals
  • Iron-rich foods such as red meat, pork, and poultry.

Do any foods or supplements decrease platelet levels?

Some foods and supplements have been shown to reduce the number of platelets and these should be avoided. They include:

  • Alcohol
  • Aspartame (NutraSweet)
  • Cranberry Juice
  • Erucic acid (in Lorenzo's oil, some rapeseed and mustard oil)
  • Jui (a Chinese medicinal herbal tea)
  • L-tryptophan
  • Lupinus termis bean (cultivated in Egypt, a food protein supplement that contains quinolizidine alkaloids)
  • Niacin (can cause liver damage with long-term use)
  • Tahini (pulped sesame seeds)

Important Outside Influences: Understanding What Impacts Your Platelets. Platelet Disorder Support Association.

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