Platelets are absolutely essential to our survival. If you don’t know, platelets are a main component of our blood, a very important one. Besides red and white blood cells, platelets are the other big player in our blood.
Platelets stop us from bleeding out when we get a cut. In other words, platelets are the cells which form blood clots and coagulate our blood to clog leaks, so to speak.
When you get a cut, platelets bind to the walls of the ruptured vein or artery, they stick together, they get bigger, and they stop the bleeding. You do, of course, need a certain number of platelets in your blood for this process to work. So, what happens when platelets are low?
A normal platelet count
Before we talk about what happens when your platelet count is low, we should probably talk about what exactly a low platelet count is.
In a normal healthy human being, the average number of platelets per microliter of blood should be between 150,000 and 450,000; this is the average.
There are several different factors which can contribute to this difference of 300,000 platelets (from 150,000 to 450,000), things such as age, gender, diet, sleep, stress, drugs, alcohol, illness, and infections.
However, generally speaking, around 300,000 platelets per microliter of blood is the average.
A low platelet count
If a normal platelet count bottoms out at 150,000, a low platelet count is, therefore, anything under 150,000 platelets per microliter of blood. Now, a few thousand under the norm is no big deal.
However, when you start getting below 100,000, 50,000, and 20,000 platelets per microliter of blood is when you start having to worry.
A low platelet count is known as thrombocytopenia and it can have quite a few effects and symptoms in the human body.
What happens when platelets are low?
So, now that we know what a low platelet count is, and that it is called thrombocytopenia, we should talk about what the effects of this are.
When you have thrombocytopenia with a platelet count below 50,000, you can expect severe bleeding from cuts that in people with normal platelet counts would not be life-threatening: bleeding of the gums and nose, the very slow healing of cuts, excessive bruising, and other such things.
If you have thrombocytopenia with a platelet count under 10,000, things start to get real serious. Having an extremely low platelet count like this can lead to spontaneous internal bleeding.
You could be bleeding into your stomach, intestines, your feces, and urine. In extreme cases, this can be so severe that people can actually die from blood loss due to internal bleeding caused by a low platelet count.
In very rare and extreme cases it has even been shown that people may develop spontaneous bleeding out of various orifices, almost like the symptoms of Ebola. It can be a very dangerous thing.
It is also worth mentioning what happens when your platelet count is too high. If you have a platelet count of over 450,000, especially when you start getting closer and closer to 1,000,000 platelets per microliter of blood, you may develop blood clots.
These blood clots will form in your veins and arteries, thus causing blockages and potentially fatal incidents such as strokes. As you can see, having too many platelets in your system can be just as dangerous as not having enough.
What causes low platelet counts?
There are several different things which are shown to cause low platelet counts. Some of these causes are totally natural and unavoidable, while others can definitely be mitigated or avoided altogether. The right diet can also help to build up your platelet count.
Let’s take a few minutes to look at some of the biggest reasons as to why you might have a low platelet count.
Age is a factor when it comes to a low platelet count. An 80-year-old man should still fall within the 150,000 to 450,000 zone, but age decreases platelet count. It is shown that people can have as much as 35% fewer platelets in old age when compared to infancy.
Another thing which may cause a difference in platelet counts is gender. Generally speaking, women are shown to have a higher amount of platelets than men, especially after puberty. Women after puberty can have as many as 10% more platelets compared to men.
Not getting enough sleep can also be a big factor. Your body needs sleep to survive and engage in regular processes; this includes the creation of blood platelets.
Stress can also be a contributing factor. Simply put, human bodies do not perform as well under stress as they do in a relaxed state. Creating an adequate amount of platelets is difficult when the body is under mental or physical stress.
Your diet can also have a big effect on the number of platelets which your body produces. You need adequate amounts of zinc, iron, calcium, vitamins K, B12, and B9 in order to produce enough blood platelets to maintain normal blood clotting functions.
Drugs and alcohol, especially the stronger stuff, can cause a sharp decrease in blood platelets.
A low platelet count can also be caused by various diseases, illnesses, and bacterial, viral, and fungal infections. Various forms of cancer can cause this.
Autoimmune diseases can decrease platelet counts. Even exposure to radiation and other toxic chemicals can have this effect as well. An enlarged spleen, pregnancy, and a variety of other conditions can all cause low platelet counts.
If you notice that you have any of the symptoms related to a low platelet count, even if they are just mild, you should not hesitate to seek immediate medical attention.
This is something that can end up being extremely dangerous in the long run, even fatal, so if you think you may have thrombocytopenia, make an appointment to see your physician to have it checked out.