Your blood contains platelets and white blood cells. White blood cells fight off infection and illness. Platelets are responsible for helping blood clot in the event of an injury, and for repairing damaged cells. When platelet count is low or white blood cells look abnormal, it may signal a more serious health issue.
Low Platelet Count
Thrombocytopenia, or low platelet count in the blood, is usually a secondary condition caused by a larger one, such as HIV or leukaemia. It also can be a side effect from medications such as heparin and quinine. Other causes of a low platelet count include pregnancy, hemolytic uremic syndrome, blood poisoning and idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (when your immune system mistakenly attacks platelets). All of these conditions are dangerous and make thrombocytopenia important to watch for.
Your doctor may prescribe corticosteroid medications or immune system suppressants such as Cytoxan or Imuran to treat a low platelet count. If the count is dangerously low, you may need to have intravenous immunoglobulin. In some cases, surgery to remove the spleen may be helpful in reversing low platelet counts. For those undergoing chemotherapy or with leukaemia, platelet concentrates are administered, as well as blood transfusions for those who have lost blood because of a low platelet count.
Abnormal White Blood Cells
Abnormal white blood cells are called leukaemia cells. Normally, when blood cells of all kinds are not needed or get old, they die. Leukaemia cells do not. Instead, they crowd around other blood cells and platelets, preventing them from performing their duties. Leukaemia is a form of cancer.
Treatment options will vary, depending on where leukaemia cells are found, your age, and the type of leukaemia. These include spleen removal surgery (if enlarged), chemotherapy, radiation therapy, stem cell transplant, biological therapy and watchful waiting. Often, two or more of these treatments are used at the same time. Watchful waiting and biological therapy may be used in the beginning stages of leukaemia, whereas chemotherapy, stem cell transplant and spleen removal occur when leukaemia is further progressed.
Symptoms of leukaemia include swollen lymph nodes, frequent infections, fevers, feeling tired or weak, unexplained weight loss or easy bruising or bleeding. Symptoms of low platelet count include easy bruising, excessive bleeding, spontaneous bleeding from the gums or nose, blood in the stool or urine, or unusually heavy menstrual flows. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, consult a medical professional. When dealing with diseases such as HIV and leukaemia, early detection is often vital.
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