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Key facts

  • Thrombocytopenia is when you have low levels of platelets in your blood.
  • Platelets are blood cell fragments that help your blood to clot.
  • There are many causes of thrombocytopenia.
  • Treatment depends on the cause of your thrombocytopenia.

What is thrombocytopenia?

Thrombocytopenia is when you have low levels of platelets in your blood. Platelets are blood cell fragments that are important for helping blood to clot.

When you cut yourself and the wound bleeds, platelets clump together at the site of the wound to stop the bleeding. If you have low levels of platelets, you may have a bleeding problem.

Your platelets may be low in number if:

  • your body is not making enough of them
  • they are being destroyed or removed from your body too quickly
  • they are being trapped in your spleen

Your body makes platelets in your bone marrow. Your spleen is an organ that filters your blood. It sits in your abdomen (tummy), under your ribs on the left.

What are the symptoms of thrombocytopenia?

Symptoms of thrombocytopenia are:

  • easy bruising
  • abnormal bleeding (nosebleeds, bleeding gums, heavy heavy periods)
  • blood in your poo or urine (wee)
  • pinpoint bleeding in your skin that looks like a purplish-red rash (known as petechiae)
  • cuts that keep bleeding

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What causes thrombocytopenia?

Thrombocytopaenia can be caused by:

  • medical conditions (such as problems with your bone marrow, liver disease, infections, immune conditions and blood clotting disorders)
  • cancers (such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma)
  • some medicines, including heparin
  • cancer treatments, including chemotherapy
  • heavy alcohol use
  • some nutritional deficiencies (vitamin B12 and folate deficiency)
  • some genetic conditions
  • pregnancy and some pregnancy complications

Immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) — also called immune thrombocytopenia — is a condition that causes a low platelet count. ITP can affect children and adults and is caused by an immune system reaction.

The AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine was linked to a very rare blood-clotting disorder called 'thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome’ (TTS). This vaccine is no longer available in Australia.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have bleeding that won’t stop, go to your local emergency department, or call triple zero (000) for an ambulance.

If you are worried that you or your child has thrombocytopenia, visit your doctor.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

How is thrombocytopenia diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and general health. They will want to know how long you have had symptoms and what medicines you are taking.

They will examine you and order blood tests. If you have thrombocytopenia, blood tests will show a low platelet count.

You may have other tests to investigate the cause of your thrombocytopenia.

Your doctor may refer you to a specialist, such as a haematologist (blood doctor).

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

How is thrombocytopenia treated?

Treatment will depend on the cause of your thrombocytopenia.

Complications of thrombocytopenia

Dangerous bleeding can sometimes occur if you have thrombocytopenia.

Resources and support

ITP Australia has information and support for people with immune thrombocytopenia.

To learn more about thrombocytopenia you can call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: November 2023

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