A low platelet count, also known as thrombocytopenia, is a condition where the body has lower than normal levels of platelets in the blood.
Our blood is made of three important cell types: white blood cells which fight infection, red, which carrying oxygen throughout the body and to vital organs, and platelets that stick together at the site of a wound or cut to form a clot that stops the bleeding.
People who are diagnosed with thrombocytopenia don’t hold enough platelets in their bloodstream to effectively form blood clots. This can cause excessive bleeding in the presence of a cut or injury, which can potentially become serious.
Besides bleeding disorders, a low platelet count can also cause a variety of other symptoms, including lightheadedness, fatigue, and jaundice.
Living with a Low Blood Cell Count
A decreased number of red blood cells can go hand in hand with a low platelet count, and easily make you feel dizzy, chilly, weak, tired, or experience shortness of breath. Here’s what you can do to make yourself feel better:
- Conserve your energy and get plenty of rest. Alternate periods of activity with periods of rest
- If you are experiencing shortness of breath, elevate your head with several pillows
- To avoid getting dizzy, move at a slower place. Before you stand up in the morning or after you have been laying down, sit on your bed for a minute or two before standing up. If you feel yourself getting dizzy at all notify your nurse or doctor right away
- Add more red meats, liver, and leafy, green vegetables in your diet. Read more about diet to increase platelet count
- If you are feeling chilly, wear an extra jacket or sweater
Living with a Low Platelet Count
A lower number of platelets in your body may cause you to bleed or bruise easily, in addition to making you feel fatigued. Here’s what you can do to protect yourself.
- Avoid activities that could bruise, burn, scratch or cut your skin
- Try not to blow your nose too hard, this could cause a rupture in a blood vessel and excessive bleeding
- When you cook or garden, be sure to wear protective gloves
- Protect your feet with slippers or shoes
- Remain cautious around tools and knives
- Use an electric shaver when shaving
- Avoid any strain in bowel movement. Your physician will be able to write a prescription for a stool softener to assist
- Following an injection or a drawing of blood, apply pressure gently over the injection site for 3 to 5 minutes to prevent bleeding
- Avoid aspirin and other over-the-counter pain medications
- Avoid any and all alcoholic drinks without the okay from your doctor
- Avoid activities that put you at risk for injury such as contact sports
Platelets and other vital blood cells are produced within our bones’ spongy center tissue, known as bone marrow. Certain factors can interfere with the body’s ability produce platelets. Under normal circumstances, the platelet count is healthy, but they are prematurely removed from the blood. Thrombocytopenia causes can include:
- Excessive consumption of alcohol
- Certain seizure and cardiovascular medications and drugs
- Toxic chemical exposure
- Enlarged spleen
- HIV, Epstein-Barr, hepatitis, and cytomegalovirus viruses
- Cancer treatments including chemotherapy and radiation treatments
- Aplastic anemia
It is important to keep in mind that although platelet numbers are lower in thrombocytopenia, overall platelet function remains unaffected. Other disorders related to platelets can cause additional impairs to platelet function even if platelet count is normal.
Platelet levels that are below 10,000 per microliter of blood are considered to be severe thrombocytopenia and could result in spontaneous and internal bleeding. In many cases, there may be no adverse effects on bleeding or clotting pathways, however the patient may feel levels of fatigue. Low platelet count effects will vary from individual to individual.
The primary symptom of a low platelet count is bleeding both externally (more common) and internally (rare). Other symptoms may include:
- Fatigue or feelings of tiredness
- Petechiae, or bleeding on various parts of the skin
- Purpura, or easy bruising on various parts of the skin
- Spontaneous nose and gum bleeds
- Heavier menstrual periods
- Internal bleeding from rectum or stool
- Prolonged bleeding from cuts
- Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
The severity and cause of a low platelet count will largely predict its treatments. This can vary from the occasional monitoring and draw of blood at home or may require emergent and specific treatment.
Also Read: Can Platelets be increased?
Steroids can often be an effective treatment used to suppress thrombocytopenia derived from auto-immune disorders, while impairing the destruction of platelets. In cases that are more severe, monoclonal antibodies or intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) can alter immune processes. In some refractory-type cases, the removal of the spleen (splenectomy) may be necessary.
If your physician believes that a certain drug is the cause of your lower platelet levels, he or she may request that you discontinue use. The importance of eliminating these are vital to you overall well-being.
Keep in Mind
Most effects on your complete blood counts are individualized and temporary. Your body is working hard to repair tissues and create new cells on a daily basis. In order to help your body function effectively, be sure to eat a diet that is well-balanced and emphasizes high-calorie and high-protein foods, drink 8 to 10 glasses of fluids each day, and remember to be as active as possible within your energy levels.