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Having a low platelet count, medically known as thrombocytopenia, can range from mild to severe, as can the associated symptoms and complications. Whenever this condition is suspected, or if a patient is at a high risk, it is important that they undergo the proper diagnostic testing so that it can be determined whether or not they have this medical condition. If present, treatment for thrombocytopenia must be initiated as quickly as possible to help alleviate the symptoms and prevent any possible complications.
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Common Diagnostic Tests
The most common tests include blood testing and a physical exam. The physical exam will include all routine components, but will also include looking for petechiae and excessive bruising, and other signs of bleeding. The doctor will also feel the abdominal area to try and determine if the spleen is enlarged.
The blood testing will include a complete blood count. This will measure how many white and red blood cells a patient has, as well as their platelet count. In a normal complete blood count, the patient will have 150,000 to 450,000 platelets per microliter. If a patient has less than 150,000 platelets, they will be diagnosed with thrombocytopenia.
Other tests used to diagnose this condition may include platelet associated antibodies, bone marrow biopsy, or bone marrow aspiration.
Once the patient is diagnosed with this condition, the underlying cause needs to be determined. This can involve a wide range of tests. The tests performed primarily depend on the patient's other signs and symptoms.
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If the patient's low platelets are only mildly low, treatment may not be necessary because it could resolve without any medical treatment. For example, if a woman experiences this condition during pregnancy, her platelet count typically improves soon after she gives birth to her child. When this condition is severe, treatment is most often necessary.
Treating the underlying cause is the main treatment for thrombocytopenia. For many patients, once the underlying condition is under control, their platelet count will improve. Even if it does not completely normalize the patient's platelet count, treating the underlying cause often improves the signs and symptoms the patient is experiencing.
A blood transfusion may be done if the patient is bleeding severely. A blood transfusion involves replacing the blood the patient lost with transfusions of platelets or packed red blood cells.
If a patient was diagnosed with idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, corticosteroids, or other medications that can block the antibodies capable of attacking platelets, are often prescribed. If corticosteroids do not improve the patient's symptoms and platelet count, a splenectomy (surgical procedure that removes the spleen) or medications that are stronger and suppress the patient's immune system may be done.
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MayoClinic.com. (2010). Thrombocytopenia (Low Platelet Count). Retrieved on September 9, 2010 from MayoClinic.com: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/thrombocytopenia/DS00691
MedlinePlus. (2010). Thrombocytopenia. Retrieved on September 9, 2010 from MedlinePlus: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000586.htm