Thrombocytopenia (low platelet count)

Thrombocytopenia is the medical term for a low blood platelet count. Platelets (thrombocytes) are colorless blood cells that play an important role in blood clotting. Platelets stop blood loss by clumping and forming plugs in blood vessel holes.

Thrombocytopenia often occurs as a result of a separate disorder, such as leukemia or an immune system problem, or as a medication side effect. Thrombocytopenia may be mild and cause few signs or symptoms. In rare cases, the number of platelets may be so low that dangerous internal bleeding can occur.

Thrombocytopenia usually improves when the underlying cause is treated. Sometimes medications, surgery or a blood transfusion can help treat chronic thrombocytopenia.

Symptoms Causes Complications

Thrombocytopenia symptoms may include:

  • Easy or excessive bruising
  • Superficial bleeding into the skin that appears as a rash of pinpoint-sized reddish-purple spots (petechiae), usually on the lower legs
  • Prolonged bleeding from cuts
  • Spontaneous bleeding from your gums or nose
  • Blood in urine or stools
  • Unusually heavy menstrual flows
  • Profuse bleeding during surgery or after dental work

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any signs or symptoms that worry you.

Bleeding that won't stop is a medical emergency. Seek immediate help if you experience bleeding that can't be controlled by usual first-aid techniques, such as applying pressure to the area.

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