Low blood platelets can be a dangerous condition. Platelets allow blood to clot, so the main symptoms of low blood platelets include bruising, an inability to stop bleeding from a wound, nosebleeds and skin conditions called purpura and petechiae. There are treatments for low platelets, and the treatment depends on the cause.
Platelets are cells in the blood that help the blood to clot, thereby healing wounds and preventing the loss of too much blood. They are made in the bone marrow and released to the blood, and they stick together to form clotting. People who have a low blood platelet count, or thrombocytopenia, cannot create platelets as most of our bodies do. They are at risk for related health problems.
The main symptom of low blood platelet count is bleeding, which can present itself in many ways. Bleeding under the skin, or bruising, is common. Purpura is a large bruise on the skin or inside of the mouth, and petechiae are small red spots on skin, resembling a rash. Both purpura and petechiae are visible signs of a low blood platelet count. Excessive bleeding in the gums while brushing your teeth, vomiting blood, nosebleeds and generally having a hard time stopping bleeding are also common signs.
ITP, or immune thrombocytopenic purpura, is the leading cause of low blood platelet counts. When a body is affected by ITP it may make too few platelets or it may destroy platelets rapidly. People also may suffer from low platelet count due to a chronic liver condition. The treatment for hepatitis C often causes low blood platelet counts, as does chemotherapy.
When to see a doctor
If you notice any of the symptoms of low blood platelets, you should seek medical attention. It is important to be aware of your body's normal bleeding and clotting routine. For instance, if you have always bled when you brush your teeth, this does not necessarily mean that you have dangerously low blood platelets. Similarly, if you bruise easily and always have, it may be due to another harmless condition of your body's blood. A symptom that appears suddenly, or more than one symptom appearing at once, is a more important indicator.
There are several treatments available for people with low blood platelets. If your low blood platelet count is due to ITP, you will likely be treated with immunosuppressants, which hinder the immune system from destroying platelets. In extreme cases of ITP, a splenectomy may be an option for treatment, as the spleen is responsible for destroying platelets. If your low platelet count is caused by the treatment for hepatitis C or by chemotherapy, a doctor will likely reduce the amount you are receiving and monitor platelets carefully. Low platelets due to chronic liver disease is generally treated by a platelet transfusion. Platelet transfusions also may be an option for all of the causes of low platelet count.