Platelets, or thrombocyte, are tiny blood cells that play a vital role in blood clotting. They originate from large bone marrow cells called megakaryocytes and circulate throughout the bloodstream. When a blood vessel gets injured, platelets receive a signal and swiftly move to the damaged site and form a plug to stop the bleeding. By doing so, they help in creating a stable clot.
Platlets are helpful in surviving organ transplant, surgeries as well as fighting chronic diseases. Without platelets, even small injuries can result in excessive bleeding.
In adults, the normal platelet count is within the range of 150,000 and 450,000 platelets per microlitre of blood. A platelet count below 150,000 platelets per microlitre is considered below the normal range. A low platelet count, also called as thrombocytopenia, may increase the risk of excessive bleeding and bruising. Such bleeding can happen underneath the skin or from the surface of your skin and may result in significant loss of blood.
Signs and symptoms of a low platelet count?
There are several signs and symptoms that can appear suddenly or over time. Some of the signs of bleeding may include:
Causes of low platelet levels?
A variety of heath conditions, including many disorders, could lead to a low platelet count. Here are some of them:
1. Bone marrow not producing enough platelets
A decrease in platelet production within the bone marrow is caused by several factors. These include conditions like leukemia or lymphoma, which can damage the bone marrow and disrupt blood stem cell function. Platelet production is also impacted by certain types of anemia, viral infections such as HIV, chickenpox, hepatitis C, as well as the use of chemotherapy drugs. Exposure to toxic chemicals and heavy alcohol consumption can also adversely affect the bone marrow's ability to produce sufficient platelets.
2. The body using too many platelets
There are certain conditions and medications that can lead to a rapid loss of platelets, resulting in a lack of these tiny cells. Pregnancy is associated with a decrease in platelet count, which can raise the risk of bleeding disorders such as gestational thrombocytopenia. This makes pregnant women to have their platelet count regularly monitored throughout their pregnancy. Autoimmune diseases such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis can also lead to higher platelet destruction. In addition, there are several infections that can lower the platelet count in the body. Moreover, certain medications can also disrupt the immune system's normal functioning and provoke it into destroying platelets.
3. The spleen trapping too many platelets
In regular cases, the spleen helps fight infection, but an enlarged spleen (caused by advanced liver disease or blood cancer) can hold on to too many platelets, thus lowering the number of platelets in circulation.
How is a low platelet count diagnosed?
Healthcare providers will conduct a thorough physical examination and check for bruises, rashes and other thrombocytopenia symptoms. They will take the patient’s medical history and recommend blood tests to check for thrombocytopenia. Based on the results, the patient may be asked to go for further tests to find out the underlying cause of the condition. Thrombocytopenia often impacts people with certain medical conditions, like autoimmune disease or those who are prescribed certain medications.