Thrombocytopenia is a condition that occurs when you don’t have enough platelets in your blood. Symptoms include easy bruising or unexpected or prolonged bleeding.

Platelets are a type of blood cell. They help your body form blood clots or plugs to slow or stop bleeding.

When you don’t have enough platelets, it can be difficult for your body to stop bleeding after injuries like cuts or scrapes. This can be dangerous and even fatal in the case of serious injuries like compound fractures or brain bleeds.

In this article, we take a look at the symptoms and potential causes of thrombocytopenia.

It’s common for people with mild thrombocytopenia to not experience symptoms. Often, mild thrombocytopenia is found during a blood test, like a complete blood count (CBC).

When thrombocytopenia does cause symptoms, they can include:

When to see a doctor

It’s important to see a doctor if you have any of these symptoms, especially if you’ve been experiencing them for longer than a week.

Uncontrolled bleeding is a medical emergency

Bleeding that can’t be stopped by first aid remedies, like bandages or applying pressure, is a medical emergency. If an injury is bleeding uncontrollably, head to an urgent care center or emergency room. Call 911 if you’re losing blood rapidly and won’t be able to drive.

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There are multiple conditions and causes that can lead to thrombocytopenia. Sometimes, thrombocytopenia is a symptom of another condition or the side effect of a medication. In other cases, it’s a passed-down genetic condition.

Possible causes

Possible causes of thrombocytopenia include:

  • Your spleen holding onto platelets: Your spleen stores platelets. Sometimes, it keeps more of them in storage than it should, resulting in thrombocytopenia. This generally doesn’t lead to clinical bleeding, but a CBC may show a low platelet value.
  • Your bone marrow not making enough platelets: Your bone marrow is responsible for making platelets, but it doesn’t always make enough, as in the case of blood cancers like leukemia.
  • Your body destroying platelets: In some cases, your body destroys platelets after they’re made and released. This is usually due to an immune disorder.

Risk factors for thrombocytopenia include:

  • Certain medications: Some medications, like heparin, quinine, and anti-seizure drugs, can destroy platelets or slow down how fast your body produces platelets.
  • Excessive alcohol: Large amounts of alcohol or chronic consumption can cause your platelet count to drop, as alcohol is toxic to bone marrow.
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals: Chemicals like arsenic, benzene, and pesticides can slow down platelet production.
  • Blood cancers: Blood cancers, like lymphoma and leukemia, damage your bone marrow and interrupt the production of platelets.
  • Autoimmune conditions: Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and other autoimmune conditions can cause your body to attack and destroy your platelets.
  • Aplastic anemia: Aplastic anemia reduces the number of new blood cells produced by your bone marrow.
  • Immune overactivity: Thrombotic thrombocytopenia purpura can cause an immune-triggered overconsumption of platelets, and immune thrombocytopenia can cause an immune-triggered destruction of platelets.
  • An enlarged spleen: When your spleen is enlarged, it can hold onto more platelets than normal.
  • Serious infections: Serious viral or bacterial infections can sometimes temporarily lower your platelet count.
  • Pregnancy: Mild thrombocytopenia sometimes develops around the due date.
  • Surgery: Tools and artificial parts used during surgery can destroy platelets.

Thrombocytopenia is a condition caused by too few platelets in the blood.

Sometimes, this condition is mild and causes no symptoms. But a low platelet count can make it difficult for your body to stop internal and external bleeding. This can be very dangerous and even fatal.

Symptoms of moderate to severe thrombocytopenia include bleeding that’s hard to control from even minor cuts, easy bruising, bleeding gums, and blood in bodily fluids, like urine.

Thrombocytopenia can sometimes be a side effect of medication or a symptom of another condition. It can also occur without a known cause. If you have any symptoms of thrombocytopenia, talk with your doctor.