Thrombocytopenia (Low Platelet Count)

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Author: Siamak N. Nabili, MD, MPH
    Siamak N. Nabili, MD, MPH

    Dr. Nabili received his undergraduate degree from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), majoring in chemistry and biochemistry. He then completed his graduate degree at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). His graduate training included a specialized fellowship in public health where his research focused on environmental health and health-care delivery and management.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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Splenic sequestration

Splenic sequestration can also lead to low platelet counts as a result of enlargement or change in function of the spleen for a variety of reasons. When the spleen enlarges, it can retain (sequester) more than the usual amount of platelets. Common causes of thrombocytopenia due to splenic enlargement may include advanced liver disease with portal hypertension (cirrhosis, for example, from chronic hepatitis B or C) and blood cancers (leukemias or lymphomas).

  • Dilutional thrombocytopenia can result from severe bleeding and transfusion of several units transfused red blood cells in a short time.
  • Pseudothrombocytopenia (false thrombocytopenia) is a commonly encountered condition where the number of platelets seen on a complete blood count analysis (CBC) may falsely appear low because of the clumping of platelets together. This can lead to an artificially reduced automated count. If this is suspected, the blood can be redrawn in a tube with a material that prevents clumping of platelets for repeat analysis. A peripheral smear review will identify platelet clumping.
  • Thrombocytopenia can also be present at birth, called neonatal thrombocytopenia. Most of these cases can be caused by processes similar to above, although, they are occasionally related to rare genetic conditions.

When should I seek medical care for thrombocytopenia?

If thrombocytopenia is detected on a routine blood work, it is generally addressed and investigated by the physician who orders the test. In people with known thrombocytopenia, follow-up care is decided based on the diagnosis and the severity. However, if a person has one or more of the above listed symptoms, they should seek a health-care professional as thrombocytopenia may quickly worsen and become serious in some individuals.

People with thrombocytopenia are, in general, initially cared for by an internist or a family practice physician. Sometimes, consultation with a doctor who specializes in blood disorders (hematologist) is helpful for more thorough investigation or treatment, but others may require additional help.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/1/2016

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