Definition of Thrombocytopenia

ThrombocytopeniaA disorder of the blood in which the blood contains too few platelets (also called thrombocytes), the cells active in coagulation (clotting).

Thrombocytopenia, also called thrombopenia, is a secondary condition that develops as a consequence of prolonged bleeding, aplastic anemia, blood disorders such as thrombocythemia, and cancers affecting the bone marrow.

Potential Causes

Acute idiopathic thrombopenia purpuraAntidiabetic medications
CirrhosisAplastic anemia
Autoimmune thrombocytopeniaBlood transfusion reaction
Chronic alcohol consumptionChronic idiopathic thrombopenia purpura
Gastrointestinal bleedingHeparin
MyelofibrosisPlatelet dysfunction
SepticemiaSulfa antibiotic medications

Certain medications may also cause thrombocytopenia as an undesired side effect.

Thrombocytopenia may occur when the bone marrow cannot produce enough platelets or when the spleen and liver remove too many platelets from the blood.

Symptoms and Diagnostic Path

The characteristic sign, regardless of its underlying cause, is excessive superficial bleeding. Symptoms include

  • Petechiae, pinpoint hemorrhages beneath the surface of the skin that have the appearance of a rash
  • Ecchymosis, a pattern of easy and excessive bruising with minor bumps and scrapes
  • Unprovoked bleeding from the nose (epistaxis), gums, urethra, and other mucous tissues
  • Blood in the urine, stool, or vomit
  • Excessive bleeding with dental procedures or surgery
  • Signs of intracranial bleeding (bleeding within the skull)

A blood test that shows the low platelet count with normal counts and appearance of other blood cells is fairly conclusive of the diagnosis, especially when an underlying condition known to cause thrombocytopenia also is present.

The doctor may choose to do a bone marrow biopsy. Because thrombocytopenia can be an early indication of hiv infection, the doctor is also likely to do an HIV antibodies test to determine whether HIV infection is present.

Treatment Options and Outlook

Treatment depends on the underlying condition. Sometimes platelet transfusions are necessary to provide enough platelets for proper coagulation. Thrombocytopenia is not usually a life-threatening condition and typically resolves when the underlying condition improves.

Risk Factors and Preventive Measures

The primary risk factors are the conditions that result in its development. Avoiding these factors, such as alcohol consumption or a medication that is causing thrombocytopenia as a side effect, or treating the condition dispenses the likelihood for developing thrombocytopenia.


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