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Causes and Symptoms of Thrombocytopenia

written by: R. Elizabeth C. Kitchen • edited by: Emma Lloyd • updated: 9/16/2010

Are you interested in learning more about low platelet counts? If so, read on to learn more about the symptoms and causes of thrombocytopenia.

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    This condition is characterized by having an abnormally low platelet count. Platelets are blood components that assist the blood in clotting. In some cases, this condition may be associated with abnormal bleeding. Thrombocytopenia symptoms will vary among patients, but knowing the symptoms and causes may help patients get a timely diagnosis. In normal cases, patients will have about 150,000 to 450,000 platelets per microliter of circulating blood. The body is constantly creating new platelets in the bone marrow, which in normal cases, keeps platelet levels normal. Each individual platelet only lives for approximately ten days, resulting in the need for continual production. If something interferes with this continual production, this condition may develop.

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    Causes

    The causes of thrombocytopenia are numerous. They are often divided into the three primary causes of low blood platelets, which include:

    1. Producing low platelets in the bone marrow
    2. An increase in platelet breakdown in the liver or spleen
    3. An increase in the breakdown of platelets in the bloodstream

    Producing low platelets in the bone marrow may be caused by:

    • Aplastic anemia
    • Cirrhosis (chronic liver disease)
    • Bone marrow infections (very rare)
    • Vitamin B12 deficiency
    • Cancer in the bone marrow
    • Folate deficiency
    • Myelodysplasia

    Certain drugs and medication may result in producing low platelets in the bone marrow. Chemotherapy is the most common example.

    Causes affecting the breakdown of platelets may include:

    • Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC)
    • Drug-induced immune thrombocytopenia
    • Hypersplenism
    • Thrombotic thrombocytic purpura
    • Drug-induced nonimmune thrombocytopenia
    • Immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP)

    Other possible causes include:

    • Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura
    • Bacteria in the bloodstream
    • Hemolytic uremic syndrome
    • Pregnancy
    • Autoimmune diseases (such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus)
    • Medications (such as heparin, quinine, anticonvulsants, quinidine, sulfa-containing antibiotics, and gold salts)
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    Symptoms

    If this condition is mild, patients may not experience any symptoms. Common thrombocytopenia symptoms include:

    • Bruising
    • Pinpoint, red rash
    • Nosebleeds and gum and mouth bleeding
    • Severe bleeding after dental work and during surgery
    • Prolonged bleeding from cuts
    • Blood in stools or urine
    • Abnormally heavy menstrual flow

    If a patient is bleeding and the bleeding cannot be stopped in timely manner, the patient should seek immediate medical attention. If the bleeding is severe, it is also a medical emergency. When a patient is bleeding, typical first-aid techniques should be used, like elevating the bleeding area if possible and applying pressure to the area.

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    Possible Complications

    If a patient's platelet count goes below 10,000 platelets per microliter, they may experience dangerous internal bleeding. Though it is rare, experiencing severely low platelet counts can result in bleeding into the intestines or brain, which can be fatal for some patients.

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    Resources

    MedlinePlus. (2010).Thrombocytopenia. Retrieved on September 9, 2010 from MedlinePlus: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000586.htm

    MayoClinic.com. (2010). Thrombocytopenia (Low Platelet Count). Retrieved on September 9, 2010 from MayoClinic.com: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/thrombocytopenia/DS00691