Platelets are needed for clotting blood in the body by clumping together. When the platelet count is low, complications can occur. Low platelets are often the cause of a more severe condition which must be treated before platelet levels will return to normal. The medical term for low platelet count is thrombocytopenia.
Blood platelet counts become lower for several reasons. Platelets are produced in the bone marrow and decrease when there is a disorder such as leukemia, lymphoma or HIV. These disorders cause the body to produce less platelets, use extra platelets or destroy them. People suffering from idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) have a condition where the body sees platelets as a disease and will destroy them. Another cause is an enlarged spleen that blocks platelets, making them less available in the bloodstream.
The main symptom of a blood platelet problem or decrease is apparent bleeding under the skin. This will show as red dots in the lower legs. The skin will bruise easily when a light injury occurs. Bleeding of the gums or blood in the urine or stool is another symptom that the platelet count is low. If an open wound injury occurs, bleeding will be difficult to stop, as platelets are needed for blood clotting. Severe conditions will create unexplained bleeding that is nearly impossible to stop. As platelet counts drop, less clotting ability exists.
Diagnosis of Symptoms
A physician will perform blood count tests when a low platelet count is suspected. If it is determined that the platelet count is low, the doctor will do additional tests to find the cause of the low platelets. The diagnosis of a fever associated with low platelets signifies that there is an infection, which must be treated upon diagnosis.
Treatment of Symptoms
Normal platelet counts are 150,000 to 450,000 per microliter in circulating blood. Platelet counts that drop below 20,000 require treatment and hospitalization. ITP treatment includes medication to block antibodies that are attacking platelets. In some cases medication is needed to block antibody production in the body. For cases where the spleen is enlarged, surgery may be required to remove the organ. Severe bleeding will require blood transfusions to replace blood that is lost, and platelet concentrates may be given in severe cases.
Mild cases of thrombocytopenia have no major complications or long-lasting effects. The major complication that occurs in some cases is bleeding of the brain or in the digestive tract. Complications are generally related to the cause of thrombocytopenia instead of the low platelets themselves.