Although a number of factors can cause low platelet counts, the condition is often found in cancer patients due to chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
A low platelet count is most commonly known as thrombocytopenia.
Thrombocytopenia compromises the body’s ability to safely and effectively clot blood in the presence of an injury, or break in a blood vessel. Read this to understand how serious this condition can be.
Another possible cause of a low platelet count includes severe injury in which an overwhelming amount of blood was lost and certain medications. If not effectively diagnosed and controlled, symptoms deriving from low platelet count can lead to death.
Decreased Platelet Production
When your bone marrow production of platelets is too low, you can develop thrombocytopenia. Factors that could decrease platelet product can include:
- Heavy alcohol consumption
- Chemotherapy drugs
- HIV, hepatitis C, and other viral infections
- Some types of anemia
Symptoms and signs of thrombocytopenia include:
- Enlarged spleen
- Heavy menstrual flows
- Blood in stools or urine
- Bleeding from nose and gums
- Prolonged bleeding from cuts
- Superficial bleeding of the skin that appears as a rash with red and purple spots. Known as petechiae, this typically occurs on the lower legs.
- Excessive or easy bruising (purpura)
Low Platelet Count Risks
If your platelet count falls below average for any reason, the condition is known as thrombocytopenia.
This is typically diagnosed if you have less than the average 150,000 to 450,000 platelets for blood microliter.
Since platelets only live in the body for 7 to 10 days, your body is constantly renewing your platelet supply through the production of new platelets within the bone marrow.
Thrombocytopenia can be caused by a number of conditions or medications and it can also be inherited.
No matter what the cause is of your low platelet count, the platelets that are circulating in your bloodstream are reduced through one or many of the following processes: overall decrease in platelet production, platelet trapping in the spleen, or increased platelet destruction.
Also Read: What Happens When Platelets are Low?
The gastrointestinal tract and the brain are ranked the two most common sites associated with internal hemorrhage and low levels of platelets. In order to effectively diagnose the cause of bleeding, diagnostic tests must be run.
This is dangerous because bleeding can progress into more serious complications before the results are made known.
Tarry and dark-colored school is often an indicator of blood located in the intestinal tract. However, only a stool sample that has been analyzed and diagnosed by a medical lab will confirm these suspicious.
A severe and sudden headache paired with vomiting and nausea may indicate bleeding in the brain, however only an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or a CT (computed tomography scan) of the head will confirm this hypothesis. If this is left untreated cardiac arrhythmia could occur.
Small, red, flat spots present on the skin often indicate petechiae. Under this condition, these spots will increase as your platelets start to decrease.
Because lower platelet counts are associated with a difficulty in blood clotting, blood will start to flow into the mucous membranes and seep closer to your skin. You may notice that you are more prone to blood blister developments and that your corneas become flushed with blood.
Bleeding in your gums along with nosebleeds are also frequent occurrences with low platelet counts.
If bleeding from the gums or nose lasts longer than 10 minutes, you should visit a doctor.
Remaining adamant about treating these early signs of low platelet levels can help in prevent the more serious development of thrombocytopenia and its complications.
When decreases in platelet levels are found following the administration of a medication that is blood thinning, such as heparin, conditions such as cardiac tamponade may follow.
Since heparin adversely thins the blood and lowers your body’s platelet count, fluid will start to accumulate within the lining that surrounds your heart.
This is because cardiac muscle loses their effective pumping capabilities. When this fluid builds up, it compresses and squeezes the chambers surrounding the heart, along with the heart itself.
When these symptoms occur the patient experiences confusion, anxiety, breathing difficulties, and chest pain.
Prolonged bleeding times
When you cut yourself, platelets are what helps to stop you from bleeding. When you don’t have enough platelets to clot your blood effectively, something as simple as a paper cut could take several minutes to stop bleeding.
In the case of more traumatic injuries and cuts, having a lower platelet level can result in death if it is not treated.
If you have a dangerously low platelet count, your primary care physician may order that you undergo a platelet transfusion.
When to See a Doctor
Internal bleeding is an extremely dangerous condition that can occur if your platelet count falls below 10,000 platelets per blood microliter. Although it is rare, severe thrombocytopenia may cause bleeding within your brain, which could be fatal.
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If you have any of the warning signs listed above, it’s important to let your doctor know your symptoms and concerns.
Remember that bleeding that won’t stop under any circumstances is considered a medical emergency. If you or someone you know have experienced bleeding that cannot be controlled by general at-home first-aid techniques, such as applying pressure to the area, seek immediate help.