by Kimberly Allen, RN
Thrombocytopenia is a condition affection millions of Americans. It can affect both men and women of all ages and ethnic groups. Thrombocytopenia is the medical term for a lower than normal platelet count. Normally there are between 150,000 and 450,000 platelets per micro liter (mcl), when you have less than 150,000 platelets per mcl you have thrombocytopenia.
So what are platelets? They are a component in your blood along with red blood cells and white blood cells. They are also produced in your bone marrow along with the other components of your blood. Platelets are formed from cells known as megakaryocytes. Approximately two thirds of your platelets circulate in your blood stream while the remaining one third are stored in your spleen.
Platelets play a very important role in clotting your blood. While circulating in your blood stream they can become activated at any time by certain chemicals that are released when a blood vessel or some other structure becomes injured. Once the platelets are activated they become sticky allowing them to adhere to each other as well as the wall of the blood vessel where the injury has occurred. This action slow and stops the bleeding by forming a clot in the damaged area. In thrombocytopenia even though the platelet count is low they maintain their function. However, in severe cases where the platelet count is very low you may experience spontaneous bleeding as well as alterations in the clotting process.
There are a number of medical conditions and medications that can lead to thrombocytopenia. However, as a rule thrombocytopenia occurs because either not enough platelets are being produced or those that are produced are being destroyed. Generally platelets have a short life span of 7 to 10 days they then die off, are removed from the blood and replaced by new ones. Certain conditions can destroy your platelets before the 7 to 10 days leaving a gap before the new platelets are ready. The bone marrow produces all the components of your blood at a specific rate for each cell including the red blood cells and the white blood cells. The rate at which the bone marrow reproduces each cell is carefully calculated by your body to be in tune with each cells life cycle. If something alters the life cycle of any of the components in your blood there will be an imbalance between the production and death cycle which usually leads to a shortage of the cell involved. Some of the medical conditions that can cause the destruction of platelets include certain autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, cardiac by-pass surgery and pregnant women with pre- eclampsia. There are also numerous medications that can cause the early destruction of platelets including some anti-seizure medications, certain cardiac medications as well as NSAID’s to name a few.
In addition to conditions that can cause the early destruction of platelets there are conditions that can inhibit the production of new platelets. The most common conditions that affect the production of platelets are certain cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Other conditions that can inhibit platelet production include certain viral infections like chicken pox, vitamin B12 deficiency and alcohol abuse.
For most people there are no symptoms, the low count is usually discovered in a routine blood count test, called a complete blood count. However, if the platelet count is extremely low you may notice excessive bruising, bleeding from your gums, or spontaneous nose bleeds. In severe cases there may be frequent spontaneous bleeding.
In cases where the thrombocytopenia is mild the doctor will usually take a watch and see approach. This usually involves regular blood tests as well as frequent check ups. Your doctor will also want to determine the cause of your thrombocytopenia before developing a treatment plan. If your platelet count gets too low they can be replaced through blood transfusions.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.