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Low Platelet Count – Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

What is Low Platelet Count?

Low Platelet Count is medically termed as thrombocytopenia. Platelets, which are colorless blood cells, actually play a vital role in the circulatory system, and they are associated with abnormal bleeding and clotting. Platelets, which are produced in the bone marrow, halt blood loss by clumping together and forming plugs in blood vessel holes. Low platelet count is considered to be an abnormal medical condition which can happen to anybody, and it is brought about by many reasons.  When treated properly, the condition of the person improves.

What does low platelet count mean?

Low Platelet Count Pictures

Normally, the platelet count is around 150,000 to 450.000 per microliter. Thrombocytopenia occurs when the platelet count is less than 50,000 per microliter.  When a person has a low platelet count, he or she is prone to bleeding episodes which do not stop due to insufficient platelets.

Low Platelet Count Symptoms and Signs

People who have a low platelet count will experience the following symptoms and signs:

  • Easy bruising
  • Prolonged bleeding
  • Spontaneous bleeding either from nose or gums
  • Unusual heavy menstrual flow
  • Profuse bleeding
  • Petechiae or pinpoint-sized reddish or purplish spot
  • Purpura
  • Ecchymoses

Low Platelet Count Causes and Risk Factors

There are a lot of causes of a low platelet count. The following are the common reasons behind a low platelet count:

  • Fancoi anemia
  • Sepsis
  • Bacterial infection
  • Viral infection
  • Folic acid deficiency
  • Leukemia
  • Bernard Soulier syndrome
  • Aplastic anemia
  • May Hegglin anomaly
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency
  • Grey platelet syndrome
  • Myelodysplasia
  • Bone marrow infection
  • Paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria
  • Post-transfusion purpura
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus
  • Pseudothrombocytopenia
  • Dilutional thrombocytopenia
  • Neonatal alloimmune thrombocytopenia
  • Hemolytic uremic syndrome
  • Pregnancy
  • HIV-associated thrombocytopenia
  • Dengue fever
  • Hypersplenism
  • Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura
  • Antiphospholipid syndrome
  • Hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes, and low platelets  syndrome
  • Vasculitis
  • Disseminated intravascular coagulation
  • Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome
  • Alport syndrome
  • Thrombocytopenia-inducing drugs such as:
    • Panobinostat
    • Isotretinoin
    • Carboplatin
    • Methotrexate
    • Valproic acid
    • H2 blockers
    • Proton pump inhibitors
    • Chemotherapy medications
    • Quinidine drugs
    • Digoxin
    • Rifampin

Low Platelet Count Diagnosis

There are two important tests used to diagnose low platelet count:

Physical examination

A physical examination is the primary exam that a person who is suspected of having a low platelet count should undergo. It is actually protocol that a physical examination is part of every diagnostic test in every suspected case. When a person with a low platelet count undergoes a physical examination, he or she will manifest petechiae (bruising) and spleen enlargement.

Blood examination

A low platelet count is normally detected in a blood examination. Usually a complete blood count (CBC) is performed to determine the actually number of blood cells (which include platelets) in the blood sample that the phlebotomist has taken from the person. If, for instance, a person has less than 150 platelets per microliter, then he or she has a low platelet count.

Other tests include the following:

  • Aspiration of the bone marrow
  • Biopsy
  • Platelet-associated antibodies

Low Platelet Count Treatments

The type of treatment will depend on the cause and the severity of thrombocytopenia. For those who are suffering a milder form of low platelet count, treatment is usually unnecessary for it will resolve on its own. The following are suggested treatments for people who suffer from low platelet count:

1. Blood transfusions

This is necessary if the blood count is lower than normal. The physician can order platelets or packed red blood cells for transfusions sessions.

2. Pharmacological treatment

Medications like corticosteroids which block antibodies that are known to attack platelets may be a good treatment for people with idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura. Those who suffer from autoimmune thrombocytopenia may respond well to intravenous immunoglobulin. However, there are cases when  pharmacological drugs causes a low platelet count. Hence, such medications like heparin products, for example, should be removed or avoided.

3. Surgical removal of the spleen

Splenectomy, a surgical removal of the spleen, is performed on people who suffer from idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura and who do not get relief from corticosteroids.

4. Treatment of the primary underlying cause of a low platelet count

Physicians identify and treat  the underlying cause of thrombocytopenia.

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