What Are the Functions of the Platelet?

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Platelets are one component of mammalian blood and are responsible for the prevention of blood loss. A person with a disorder related to blood clotting--whether he's unusually susceptible to strokes caused by clots forming in his vessels or is unable to properly coagulate when injured--is likely to be able to trace the disorder to an abnormal platelet count.

Pieces of Bone Marrow

  • Platelets are the smallest type of blood cell--smaller than either red or white cells. Along with plasma, these three types of cells comprise the blood in your veins. Platelets are fractured pieces of very large bone marrow cells called megakaryocytes, which means they're not technically full cells but broken, irregularly shaped fragments of cells. One of the symptoms of a bone marrow disorder is a dangerous drop in platelet count.

Blood Loss Prevention

  • When blood vessels are damaged and blood loss begins, the very small and light platelets are the first cells to reach the ruptured surface of the vessel. The platelets, in combination with nutrients like vitamin K and a protein called fibrinogen, form a thick, tough web of material called fibrin. A cluster of fibrin threads covers the hole in the blood vessel and prevents blood from escaping while repairs are done. You've seen lots of fibrin-clusters before--they're scabs.

Unintended Effects

  • Though hemostasis--the prevention of blood loss--is the official function of platelets, they can cause serious medical problems if not properly balanced. A body with an abnormally high platelet count can sometimes develop blood clots--buildups of fibrin within the blood vessels that obstruct proper flow. Likewise, a body with too few platelets may be unable to clot its blood properly, giving cuts that would otherwise be minor a risk of serious blood loss.

References

  • Photo Credit hand with blood image by Ivonne Wierink from Fotolia.com
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