A low platelet count is a condition that is generally understood to signify less than 150,000 platelets per microliter of blood. It takes place when platelets are missing from circulation at a faster rate than they are being replaced by the bone marrow. The average lifespan of a platelet is between 7-10 days.
Low platelet count generally leads to abnormal blood clotting as the main function that platelets participate in is clotting of the blood. Platelets prevent blood loss by clustering together and plugging the openings found in blood vessels. Platelets are produced mainly in the bone marrow and released into the blood stream. A fraction of platelets are stored in the spleen.
The Specific types of low platelet count include:
Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP): Immune system attacks the platelets
Thrombotic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (TTP): Formation of clots in blood circulation causing consumption of platelets
Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome: Similar to TTP; characterized by renal failure
The onset of thrombocytopenia is typically linked to:
- Malfunctioning bone marrow which blights its capacity to produce platelets. Typically this manifests itself as agranulocytosis. In most cases the red blood cell and white blood cell production may also be hampered. Aplastic anaemia is another condition that mars the bone marrows ability to produce any type of blood cells, platelets included.
- Destruction of platelets (being adequately produced) by the body at an accelerated rate.
- Spleen enlargement
- An illness or disease which impacts an individual’s stem cells; leukaemia, lymphoma, AIDS have this effect
- Medications and treatments like chemotherapy and radiation therapy to fight the aforementioned ailments can also reduce the platelet count
- A direct link has been found between alcohol abuse and a fallen platelet count
- Deficiency of folic acid and vitamin B12
By and large, a low platelet count has no overt symptoms. In case of a severe drop in the count (less than 10 or 20,000), there exists a heightened risk of bleeding/ haemorrhage when injured or during menstrual periods.
Spontaneous bleeding under the skin or mucus membrane as in the gastrointestinal tract or nasal cavity is observed in cases of severe thrombocytopenia.
Petechiae which are miniscule, red spots can appear under the skin as a result of the small blood vessels beneath the skin bleeding out.
Rashes or bruises (other than petechiae) observed when one is suffering from thrombocytopenia are termed as purpura. These are tiny, purple spots below the skin forming due to haemorrhage.
To restore a low platelet count, the line of treatment that is followed is determined on the basis of the cause of the condition as well as its severity. The usual treatment option is medication administered through an injection or intravenously. Blood transfusions also form a regularly used method of treatment. When the condition is linked to enlargement of the spleen, splenectomy, the removal of the spleen, may be recommended. If a particular drug is the cause, then it should be discontinued following the consultation of a physician.
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