Platelets are the smallest blood cells that play a critical role in the process of blood clotting. A low platelet count, also known as thrombocytopenia, can be caused by a variety of medical conditions. When platelets are too low, there is an increased risk of bleeding or bruising, which can lead to serious health issues.
Understanding the Causes and Symptoms of Low Platelet Count (Thrombocytopenia)
Here are some medical conditions that can cause a drop in your platelet count:
Immune Thrombocytopenia (ITP)
Immune thrombocytopenia (ITP) is a medical condition that can cause a drop in your platelet count. Platelets are small cells in your blood that help your blood clot, so a low platelet count can cause problems with bleeding and bruising.
ITP is an autoimmune disorder, meaning your body’s immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys your platelets. The exact cause of ITP is unknown, but it can be triggered by viral infections, medications, or other medical conditions.
Symptoms of ITP include easy bruising, bleeding gums, nosebleeds, and small red or purple spots on your skin called petechiae. In some cases, ITP may not cause any symptoms at all. ITP can be diagnosed through blood tests and a physical exam. Treatment options for ITP include medications to suppress the immune system and increase platelet production, as well as blood transfusions in severe cases.
If you have a low platelet count or any symptoms of ITP, it is important to speak with your healthcare provider for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Viral infections are one of the common causes of a low platelet count, also known as thrombocytopenia. Many different types of viruses can cause thrombocytopenia, including dengue, Zika, and Epstein-Barr virus.
When a person is infected with a virus, their immune system responds by producing antibodies to fight the virus. Sometimes, the immune response can also attack the platelets in the blood, leading to a decrease in platelet count. In some cases, the virus itself can directly infect the bone marrow, where platelets are produced, and cause a decrease in platelet count.
Symptoms of thrombocytopenia caused by a viral infection can include easy bruising, bleeding gums, nosebleeds, and petechiae, which are small purple or red spots on the skin.
Treatment for thrombocytopenia caused by a viral infection depends on the severity of the condition and the underlying cause of the virus. In some cases, the platelet count may improve on its own once the virus is treated or resolved. In other cases, medication or other treatments may be needed to increase the platelet count and prevent bleeding complications. It is important to work closely with a healthcare provider to determine the most appropriate treatment plan for each individual case.
Cancer can be a cause of low platelet count or thrombocytopenia, especially when the cancer affects the bone marrow, where platelets are produced. As cancer cells grow, they can crowd out healthy cells in the bone marrow, resulting in a decreased platelet count.
Some types of cancer that can cause low platelet count include leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma. In addition, cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy can also affect the bone marrow and lead to a decreased platelet count.
Symptoms of low platelet count due to cancer can include easy bruising and bleeding, nosebleeds, and prolonged bleeding from cuts or injuries. Treatment options for low platelet count caused by cancer may include medications to stimulate the production of platelets, blood transfusions, and in some cases, bone marrow transplant. It is important for cancer patients to work closely with their healthcare team to manage any symptoms and side effects, including low platelet count.
Certain medications can cause a decrease in platelet count, leading to a condition known as drug-induced thrombocytopenia. This condition is typically caused by medications that affect platelet production or survival, or trigger an immune reaction against platelets. Common medications that can cause thrombocytopenia include chemotherapy drugs, antibiotics, anticonvulsants, and diuretics.
Drug-induced thrombocytopenia can be either mild or severe, depending on the medication and the individual’s response to it. Symptoms can range from easy bruising and prolonged bleeding to life-threatening hemorrhage. In some cases, drug-induced thrombocytopenia may resolve after the medication is discontinued, while in other cases, treatment may be necessary to restore normal platelet counts.
It is important to inform your doctor of any medications you are taking and to monitor your platelet count if you are taking a medication known to cause thrombocytopenia. If you experience symptoms of thrombocytopenia, such as unexplained bruising or bleeding, seek medical attention immediately.
Pregnancy is a complex physiological process that can cause changes in many systems of the body, including the blood clotting system. In some cases, pregnancy can lead to a drop in platelet count, a condition known as gestational thrombocytopenia.
Gestational thrombocytopenia is a common condition that affects approximately 7-8% of pregnant women. It is generally mild and resolves on its own after delivery. However, in rare cases, it can lead to more serious complications such as bleeding during delivery or the development of a rare but serious condition called pre-eclampsia.
The exact cause of gestational thrombocytopenia is not fully understood, but it is believed to be related to changes in hormone levels during pregnancy. In some cases, the condition may be related to an autoimmune response where the mother’s immune system attacks her own platelets.
Women who develop gestational thrombocytopenia will typically have platelet counts between 100,000 and 150,000 per microliter of blood. The condition is typically asymptomatic and is usually discovered during routine blood tests.
If a pregnant woman develops thrombocytopenia, her healthcare provider will monitor her platelet count closely to ensure it does not drop to dangerous levels. In severe cases, treatment may be necessary to prevent bleeding during delivery. Women with gestational thrombocytopenia should talk to their healthcare provider about any concerns or questions they may have about their condition and the potential risks or complications.
Low platelet count can be caused by genetic disorders such as Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome, May-Hegglin anomaly, and Bernard-Soulier syndrome. These disorders affect the genes responsible for the production and function of platelets. In Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome, for example, the gene that codes for the protein that helps form the platelet cytoskeleton is mutated. As a result, the platelets are smaller, fewer in number, and less able to form clots. Similarly, in Bernard-Soulier syndrome, there is a defect in the gene that codes for the glycoprotein complex that is important for platelet adhesion. This results in a decreased ability of platelets to stick to blood vessel walls.
People with these genetic disorders may have a lifelong low platelet count and may experience symptoms such as easy bruising, nosebleeds, and excessive bleeding after injury or surgery. Treatment may include platelet transfusions, medications that stimulate the production of platelets, and in severe cases, bone marrow or stem cell transplants. It is important for individuals with a family history of these genetic disorders to be aware of the signs and symptoms and to seek medical attention if they suspect a low platelet count.
In conclusion, a low platelet count can be caused by a variety of medical conditions, and it is important to identify the underlying cause in order to provide appropriate treatment. If you are experiencing symptoms of a low platelet count, such as easy bruising or prolonged bleeding, consult with your healthcare provider to determine the cause and the best course of treatment.
- “Thrombocytopenia: Causes, symptoms, and treatment” by Jennifer Huizen, Medical News Today, last reviewed on September 22, 2021: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/312076
- “Low Platelet Count (Thrombocytopenia)” by Mayo Clinic, last updated on March 13, 2021: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/thrombocytopenia/symptoms-causes/syc-20378293
- “Thrombocytopenia (Low Platelet Count)” by American Society of Hematology, last reviewed on January 1, 2022: https://www.hematology.org/education/patients/blood-disorders/thrombocytopenia
- “Thrombocytopenia” by National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, last updated on August 1, 2016: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/thrombocytopenia
- “Low Platelet Count: Thrombocytopenia Causes, Symptoms and Treatments” by Michael W. Smith, MD, WebMD, last reviewed on November 19, 2021: https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/low-platelet-count-thrombocytopenia-causes-symptoms-treatments