Platelets are miniscule blood cells that prevent your body from losing too much blood if you are bleeding.
When a blood vessels is damaged due to injury such as a cut or open wound, a signal is sent to the platelets in your bloodstream.
These tiny cells then rush to the damaged area to form a clot, or plug, in order to repair the damage.
The process of platelets spreading across the surface of a wound or damaged blood vessel, in order to stop excessive bleeding is known as adhesion.
This nickname is fitting, because when platelets get to the site of the injury, sticky tentacles grow and help them to interlock and adhere, creating a mesh over the wound. During this process, they also send out chemical signals that attract even more platelets to gather on the clot.
This process is known as aggregation.
Platelets are created in your bone marrow along with red and white blood cells. Bone marrow is the spongy center of your bones that are in charge of the production of your body’s blood cells, including platelets. Platelets are also called thrombocytes.
A clot is usually referenced by health care providers as a thrombus. When platelets have been produced and released into your bloodstream, they survive between 7 and 10 days.
If you look at a platelet under a microscope, it looks like a tiny plate. Your primary care physician may order a test to count the number of blood cells, including platelets, produced by the body, known as a complete blood count.
- The average healthy individual produces between 150,000 and 450,000 platelets per blood microliter in the human body
- If the body’s platelet count falls below 10,000 to 20,000, risk for spontaneous bleeding occurs
- If a person’s platelet count falls less than 50,000 symptoms such as bleeding are likely more serious if they are bruised or cut
- Some individuals create too many platelets, with counts as high as 500,000 and even greater than 1 million. Patients who overproduce platelets are at risk for unnecessary blood clotting in the absence of a break or trauma to blood vessels
The most common platelet disorder is caused by a common over-the-counter medication known as aspirin. Aspirin blocks a step that platelets require in order to stick together and form blood clots. Patients who have thrombosis or other blood clotting-related disorders can take aspirin as an effective blood thinning treatment.
Also Read: What does platelet clumping mean?
For example, an individual who has been admitted to the emergency room with severe pains in their chest and may be at risk of a heart attack is immediately administered an aspirin.
The aspirin will work to prevent the clumping of platelets which may obstruct a healthy flow of blood to the heart.
While aspirin has proven to be an effective medicine in the prevention of blood clotting, it doesn’t totally paralyze platelet function. Consequently, many people who take an aspirin daily don’t have any issues with bleeding. However, those who are already at high risk for bleeding may find that taking aspirin is potentially dangerous.
This includes patients who already suffer from too few platelets and depend on each one of their existing platelets for full and healthy bodily function.
Disorders of High Platelet Counts
Rare conditions affecting the healthy function of bone marrow produce too many platelets in the body. This can be as high as 1 to 2 million per microliter of blood.
While some patients with higher platelet counts don’t have any adverse symptoms, others have an increased chance of developing a blood clot.
Disorders of Low Platelet Counts
A low platelet count is known as thrombocytopenia. This term is derived from the old scientific name for platelets called, thrombocytes. Low platelet counts are anything under 50,000.
There are known remedies for low platelet count. We dedicated a separate article for this issue that you can read here.
Under this condition, your bone marrow doesn’t make enough platelets, or your platelets are destroyed after they are produced. When platelet numbers in the human body become too low internal bleeding will occur inside the body, under the skin as bruising, or outside the skin as a severe nosebleed or cut that simply won’t stop from bleeding.
This condition can be caused by a number of conditions such as an abnormal immune system, infections, pregnancy, kidney disease, cancer, and even certain medicines.
This is when the bone marrow inside your body produces too many platelets. People with this condition have observable platelet counts that exceed 1 million per microliter of blood.
Symptoms of this disease can include blood clotting which forms without the presence of an injury and block the supply of blood to the heart, causing a stroke or heart attack.
The exact cause of thrombocythemia remains unknown today.
This is another condition that derives from the body’s overproduction of platelets. However, platelet counts in thrombocytosis do not get as high as they do in thrombocythemia conditions.
This disease does not derive from an abnormal function in bone marrow.
This is instead caused by another condition or disease that stimulates the bone marrow causing an overproduction of platelets. Causes of thrombocytosis include certain reactions to medicine, various types of cancer, inflammation, and infection.
These symptoms are not typically serious and are expected to return to normal when the underlying condition has been addressed.
There are a variety of diseases that have been associated with the poor functioning of platelets. Medicines such as aspirin can inhibit the normal function of platelets.
If you suffer from bleeding conditions or it runs in your family, it is very important to know which medicines affect platelet function.
Although platelets are tiny, they are one of the most important cells found in your bloodstream, because they help the body to prevent an excessive blood loss and control bleeding.
Symptoms such as frequent nosebleeds, cuts that won’t stop bleeding, or easy bruising should be treated as a red flag. If you experience any of these conditions let your primary health care provider know.