Platelets are small cells that circulate throughout our bloodstream and bind together when they come across other blood vessels that are damaged. When you have a cut, your platelets gather and bind at the site of the damage. This is what stops our body from excessive bleeding.
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Platelets cannot be viewed by the naked eye; they can only be observed under a microscope. In their non-active form, they are shaped like small plates.
Our blood vessels send out a signal when they become damaged and platelets come to the rescue. They respond to this call for help by transferring to an active formation and traveling to the affected area.
When platelets make contact with blood vessels that have been damaged or broken, they grow long tentacles that resemble an octopus or spider.
A typical platelet count will range between 150,000 and 450,000 per microliter of blood. Having a platelet count that is greater than 450,000 is known as thrombocytosis. There are several reasons why a platelet count could be high (Read More)
Having fewer than the average number of platelets (150,000) is called thrombocytopenia.
Your average platelet number can be determined from a routine complete blood count (CBC).
Too many platelets
Medically, having a high platelet count is known as thrombocytosis. There are two different types:
- Essential or primary thrombocytosis – When abnormal cells that are located in the bone marrow cause a spike in platelet count. The reason for this is not known
- Secondary or reactive thrombocytosis – The same condition as its primary counterpart, secondary thrombocytosis can be a secondary cause to an ongoing disease or condition such as infection, inflammation, cancer, or anemia
In the case that symptoms include unexplainable and spontaneous blood clots visible in the legs and arms an individual should seek immediate attention.
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Leaving blood clots untreated can lead to a stroke or heart attack. In more severe cases, a patient might have to undergo plateletpheresis.
This procedure lowers the platelet count through the removal of blood, the separation of and removal of some platelets, and returning the blood back into the body, minus a number of platelets.
In cases of secondary or reactive thrombocytosis, symptoms can typically be associated with a separate underlying condition.
For example, if you have anemia or an infection, your platelet count will come down upon successful treatment of these conditions.
Too few platelets
Not having enough platelets in the bloodstream is a condition known as thrombocytopenia.
Symptoms of thrombocytopenia include frequent gum bleeding, easy bruising, GI tract, or nosebleeds.
When something is preventing your body from successfully producing the average number of platelets, your platelet count decreases. This can have a wide range of causes, such as:
- Too much alcohol
- Kidney dysfunction or infection
- Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy
- Specific types of cancer such as lymphoma or leukemia
- An inherited condition
Too many platelets will increase your risk of unnecessary clotting.
However cardiovascular risk has a greater dependency on the function of your platelets than the platelet count.
For example, you may have a healthy platelet count, but if they are sticking together, it will increase your chance of having a stroke or heart attack.
Keeping track of platelets
Too few or too many platelets, abnormal platelet functioning, and other conditions relating such as heart attacks, strokes, and blood clots can all be inherited conditions.
Because of this, it’s a good idea to notify your doctor if you have a known family connection with these risks.
While you may feel generally fine on a day-to-day basis, your primary care doctor will likely want to keep a close eye on you and conduct further investigations into the need for medication to maintain a normal platelet count.
The most common type of medication for blood thinning is aspirin.
However, recent studies show that healthy women under the age of 65 don’t receive the same benefit from taking aspirin that men do. There isn’t a concrete answer to this observation yet.
When a platelet blood test is important
If you experience any of the conditions in the follow list, it is important to have your platelet count monitored.
While the cause may not always be associate with unsafe platelet levels, you can never be too cautious when it comes to your health.
Easy or unexplainable bruising
While bruising may not seem like a big deal, excessive bruising can be a sign of a lower platelet count. It is best to ask your doctor for their opinion to be sure.
Prolonged bleeding from a wound or cut
If you find that your body has difficulty in stopping bleeding from small scratches and cuts, your platelet count can be low. This may seem minor when it comes to small cuts, but can become serious in the face of a large injury.
Although experiencing a nosebleed from time to time isn’t considered harmful, experiencing it all the time or frequently without an explanation is a problem. A low platelet count could be to blame.
Although gastrointestinal bleeding can occur for a variety of reasons, it’s important to rule out platelets with a complete blood count to be sure.
Heavier than normal menstrual bleeding
While some women naturally have a heavier flow, severe bleeding can be alarming and should be taken as a warning sign that something is not okay in the body.
Check with your doctor to see if platelet count could be a cause.
Petechiae (red spots on skin)
If you notice 1-2mm purple or red-colored spots visible on the skin, you might have a minor type of hemorrhage. This occurs when there are broken capillary blood vessels.
If you notice any unexplainable changes like this to your skin, you should consult a doctor immediately.
Purpura (purple spots on skin)
If you have purple and red discoloration present on your skin that doesn’t change to white when you apply pressure, then you have bleeding under the skin.
This often reveals the presence of a dietary deficiency or vasculitis.
Other conditions that might occur in the presence of too many or too few platelets are loss of consciousness, stroke, dizziness, and excessive headaches.
If you experience anything unusual, you should consult with your doctor immediately to determine if an unhealthy platelet count is the cause.