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    Thrombocytopenia is any disorder in which there is an abnormally low amount of platelets. Platelets are parts of the blood that help blood to clot. This condition is sometimes associated with abnormal bleeding.


    Thrombocytopenia is often divided into three major causes of low platelets:

    1. Not enough platelets are made in the bone marrow
    2. Increased breakdown of platelets in the bloodstream
    3. Increased breakdown of platelets in the spleen or liver

    Your bone marrow may not make enough platelets if you have:

    • Aplastic anemia
    • Cancer in the bone marrow such as leukemia
    • Cirrhosis (liver scarring)
    • Folate deficiency
    • Infections in the bone marrow (very rare)
    • Myelodysplasia
    • Vitamin B12 deficiency

    Use of certain drugs may also lead to a low production of platelets in the bone marrow. The most common example is chemotherapy treatment.

    The following health conditions cause increasedbreakdown of platelets:

    • Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC)
    • Drug-induced nonimmune thrombocytopenia
    • Drug-induced immune thrombocytopenia
    • Hypersplenism (swollen spleen)
    • Immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP)
    • Thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura


    You may not have any symptoms. General symptoms include:

    • Bleeding in the mouth and gums
    • Bruising
    • Nosebleeds
    • Rash (pinpoint red spots called petechia)

    Other symptoms depend on thecause.

    Exams and Tests

    Your health care provider will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your medical history and symptoms. The following tests may be done:

    • Complete blood count (CBC)
    • Blood clotting studies (PTT and PT)

    Other tests that may help diagnose this condition include:

    • Bone marrow aspiration or biopsy
    • Platelet associated antibodies


    Treatment depends on the cause of the condition. In some cases, a transfusion of platelets may be required to stop or prevent bleeding.

    Outlook (Prognosis)

    The outcome depends on the disorder causing the low platelet counts.

    Possible Complications

    Severe bleeding (hemorrhage) is the main complication. Bleeding may occur in the brain or gastrointestinal tract.

    When to Contact a Medical Professional

    Call your healthcare provider if you experience unexplained bleeding or bruising.


    Prevention depends on the specific cause.


    McMillan R. Hemorrhagic disorders: abnormalities of platelet and vascular function. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 175.


          Tests for Thrombocytopenia

            Review Date: 3/14/2012

            Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

            The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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            St. Luke's Hospital - 232 South Woods Mill Road - Chesterfield, MO 63017 Main Number: 314-434-1500 Emergency Dept: 314-205-6990 Patient Billing: 888-924-9200
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