Platelets (also known as thrombocytes) are small stem cell fragments in your blood that help clot and prevent bleeding. Each day your body creates millions of platelets. Having a good platelet count helps your body repair damaged blood vessels.
A low platelet count prevents your blood cells from clotting and can lead to large amounts of blood loss.
Platelet donations help cancer, trauma, transplant, and burn patients recover and are always needed by area hospitals.
What are platelets used for? Learn more on the blog.
What causes a low platelet count?
Many factors can lead to a low platelet count – a condition known as thrombocytopenia.
A normal platelet count ranges from 150,000 to 450,000 per microliter of blood. A count lower than 150,000 is considered thrombocytopenia. A platelet count below 10,000 is severe thrombocytopenia.
When your platelet count gets too low, it can cause dangerous internal bleeding.
The most common causes of a low platelet count are medications or health conditions. Other risk factors include family history, genetics, and age. There are three overall reasons you could have a low platelet count:
1) Your body isn’t making enough platelets.
Platelets are made in your bone marrow. If your body is not making enough platelets, it is often related to a bone marrow problem. Some factors that can cause low platelet production are:
- Leukemia or lymphoma
Damages your bone marrow and destroys blood stem cells
- Certain types of anemia
Aplastic anemia, for example, is due to the bone marrow not making enough new blood cells
- Viral infections
Like chickenpox, hepatitis C, or HIV
- Chemotherapy drugs
Can damage bone marrow, usually temporary
- Heavy alcohol consumption
Slows the production of platelets for a short time; most common in people with low levels of vitamin B12 or folate
- Exposure to toxic chemicals
Like pesticides, arsenic, or benzene
2) Your body is using up too many platelets.
Certain conditions and medications can cause your body to rapidly destroy or use up platelets faster than they are produced. This leads to a shortage of platelets in your bloodstream.
Most common just before childbirth; typically mild and improves soon after
- Autoimmune diseases
Like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis
- Thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura
Rare blood disorder that causes small blood clots throughout the body
- Hemolytic uremic syndrome
Causes clots to form in small kidney blood vessels and can lead to kidney failure
- Bacteria in the blood
Severe infections can lead to the destruction of platelets
Some medicine, like heparin, quinine, and anti-seizure drugs, can confuse the immune system and cause it to destroy platelets
3) Your spleen is trapping too many platelets.
The spleen acts as a filter for your blood and helps fight bacteria. It recycles old red blood cells, and stores platelets and white blood cells.
The spleen is a purple, fist-shaped organ on the left side of your abdomen, just below your rib cage. It varies in size and shape but is typically about 4 inches long.
When your spleen becomes enlarged due to advanced liver disease or blood cancers, it can hold on to an excessive number of platelets, decreasing the number in circulation throughout your body.
How do you treat a low platelet count?
If your doctor suspects your platelets are low they will order a complete blood count test. This is a simple blood draw.
If your platelet count is low your doctor will recommend the best treatment plan for you. If it is a mild thrombocytopenia, treatment might not be needed. If they do recommend treatment, it will depend on the cause and severity.
Your doctor might suggest switching medications. Or prescribe a medication to boost your platelet production.
In severe cases or emergencies, you may need a blood or platelet transfusion.
If you have a healthy platelet count, consider giving them away. There is always a need for platelet donations to help cancer and trauma patients survive.
People with A+, B+, AB-, AB+, and O+ blood types should consider donating platelets. You can donate platelets every 7 days and up to 24 times a year. Schedule your appointment and share your power to save lives today!