What is thrombocytopenia?
In thrombocytopenia, platelets (also called thrombocytes) are low in number, which can result in bleeding problems. Platelets are blood cells important for helping blood to clot. Platelets may be low in number if there is not enough of them being made, if they are being destroyed or if they are being trapped in the spleen. The spleen is an organ that acts as a filter of your blood and sits in your abdomen, under the ribs on the left.
Thrombocytopenia is more common in children than adults but it is still very rare. In children it usually resolves by itself. In many adults it does not get better but it usually does not need any treatment.
Causes of thrombocytopenia
Thrombocytopaenia may be due to:
- idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP), which is more common in children - idiopathic means the cause is not known.
- cancers, such as leukaemia, or cancer treatments including chemotherapy
- an enlarged spleen.
People with thrombocytopenia can:
- bruise easily
- have nose bleeds or bleeding gums
- have pinpoint bleeding in the skin that looks like a rash (known as petechiae)
- have cuts that keep bleeding
- feel tired.
In rare cases, dangerous internal bleeding may occur.
If you are worried that you or your child has thrombocytopenia, visit your doctor.
For bleeding that won’t stop, go to your local emergency department or call triple zero (000).
Your doctor will examine you and probably order blood tests. If you have thrombocytopenia, blood tests show a low platelet count.
You may have other tests to investigate the cause of the thrombocytopenia, and your doctor may refer you to a specialist.
Depending on the cause and severity of the thrombocytopenia, treatments may include:
- watching and waiting, as thrombocytopenia often gets better by itself
- treating the cause, for example, treating an underlying cancer, or stopping medications that can cause thrombocytopenia
- steroids to boost platelet numbers.
In more severe cases, you may need:
- platelet transfusion
- intravenous immunoglobulin (a type of blood transfusion)
- surgery to remove the spleen.
You may also have to:
- avoid anti-inflammatory medication such as aspirin or ibuprofen
- avoid activities that may result in injury
- avoid alcohol as it can affect platelet production.
During treatment, you will need regular blood tests and reviews with your doctor.
Last reviewed: July 2017