Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP)

ITP Symptoms and Causes

What Are the Causes and Symptoms of Immune Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP)?

Medical Author: Benjamin C. Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM
Medical Editor: Charles P. Davis, MD, PhD

The body has enough work to do defending itself from the outside world, repairing injuries, and fighting off infections. So it seems unfair that there are also enemies within that body that are ready to attack. Such is the case with immune thrombocytopenic purpura (idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura or ITP), where the body attacks and destroys platelets in the blood stream, leading to an increased risk of bleeding.

Red and white blood cells are the star players in blood.

  • Red blood cells are the carriers of hemoglobin so that the body can receive oxygen from the lungs and deliver it to the organs of the body in order for them to function.

  • White blood cells are the armies of the body, fighting off infection.

  • Platelets get no press and little respect (unless they are involved with a heart attack!). Their purpose is to begin the clotting process in the body. When a blood vessel is damaged, platelets are the first to arrive at the scene to plug the hole. Other blood proteins start to congregate to form fibrin that strengthens the platelet plug and ultimately form a clot. Without enough platelets, the bleeding repair process fails and blood can leak out where it doesn't belong.

Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) facts

  • Treatment for idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) is based on how much and how often you're bleeding and your platelet count. In some cases, treatment may not be needed.
  • Medicines often are used as the first course of treatment. Treatments used for children and adults are similar.
  • Adults with ITP who have very low platelet counts or problems with bleeding often are treated. Adults who have milder cases of ITP may not need any treatment, other than watching their symptoms and platelet counts.
  • The acute (short-term) type of ITP that occurs in children often goes away within a few weeks or months. Children who have bleeding symptoms, other than merely bruising (purpura), usually are treated.
  • Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) is a bleeding condition in which the blood doesn't clot as it should. This is due to a low number of blood cell fragments called platelets.
  • Platelets stick together (clot) to seal small cuts or breaks on blood vessel walls and stop bleeding.
  • There are two types of ITP. Acute ITP is a short-term illness that mainly affects children and often occurs after a viral infection. Most children get well quickly without any treatment. Adults who have ITP most often have chronic (long-lasting) ITP. Symptoms can vary a great deal, and some adults who have mild ITP don't need treatment.
  • In most cases, an autoimmune response is believed to cause ITP. Normally your immune system helps your body fight off infections and diseases. But if you have ITP, your immune system attacks and destroys its own platelets. The reason why this happens isn't known.
  • ITP can't be passed from one person to another.
  • ITP can affect children and adults of all ages. Women are 2 to 3 times more likely than men to get chronic ITP.
  • People who have ITP may have signs of bleeding, such as bruises (purpura) that appear for no reason or tiny red dots (petechiae) that are visible on the skin.
  • Bleeding in ITP also occurs in the form of nosebleeds, bleeding gums, menstrual bleeding that's heavier than usual, or other bleeding that's hard to stop. Bleeding in the brain as a result of ITP is very rare, but it can be life threatening when it occurs.
  • ITP is diagnosed based on your medical history, a physical exam, and results from blood tests.
  • Treatment for ITP is based on how much and how often you're bleeding and your platelet count. Medicines often are used as the first course of treatment. Treatments used for children and adults are similar.
  • The spleen is sometimes removed if treatment with medicine fails to keep the platelet level high enough to prevent bleeding.
  • You can't prevent ITP, but you can prevent its complications. Talk to your doctor about what medicines are safe for you, protect yourself from injuries that can cause bruising or bleeding, and seek treatment if any signs of infection develop.
  • For most children and adults, ITP isn't a serious or life-threatening condition. Even people who have severe forms of chronic ITP can live for decades.

Subscribe to MedicineNet's Newsletters

Get the latest health and medical information delivered direct to your inbox!

By clicking Submit, I agree to the MedicineNet's Terms & Conditions & Privacy Policy and understand that I may opt out of MedicineNet's subscriptions at any time.

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors