The Meaning of Low Platelet Count in Blood Test Result

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Scanning electron micrograph of blood cells. From left to right: human erythrocyte, activated thrombocyte (platelet), leukocyte. (Wikimedia Image)

Platelets are components of our blood that primarily aid in blood clotting. Blood clotting stops bleeding in cuts or wounds; without it any wound we incur would lead to massive hemorrhaging and eventually death. Platelets are the most numerous component of our blood, though they only account for only twenty percent of our total blood volume. Together with red blood cells and some white blood cells, platelets are formed in the bone marrow by cells called megakaryocytes. However, the platelet itself is not a cell but simply cell fragments. They do however contain proteins on their surface that do a variety of functions to limit bleeding. Some proteins found in platelets allow themselves to stick together and block breaks in blood vessels while other proteins call or attract more platelet fragments to help block the breach. Since platelets are the lightest component of blood, they are shuttered away from the center of blood vessels and instead move along the sides, making their job of sealing breaks in the blood vessel easier.

Thrombocytopenia or low platelet count is a symptom of many diseases. It can be detected by undergoing a complete blood count test. The normal platelet count for humans is in between 150,000 to 450,000 platelets per microliter (µL) of blood. Lower than 150,000 platelets would signify thrombocytopenia while higher than 450,000 platelets means having a high blood platelet count or thrombocytosis. Extremely low platelet counts may lead to bleeding from gums, bruises, rashes, and skin irritation.

There are several meanings of a low platelet count. It could be an enlargement of the spleen. This small organ plays a role in cleaning the blood for old red blood cells, as well as for removing phagocytosed intruders. An enlargement of the spleen may be caused by infections and other factors that would lead platelets to be gravitated towards it, reducing the amount circulating in the blood.[ad#co-1]

A platelet usually has a lifespan of only 10 days. When platelet production is reduced, the amount of platelets available in the blood may run out after 10 days. Platelets are produced in the bone marrow, thus a multitude of diseases such as leukemia, AIDS, and anemia may limit the number of platelets produced. Aside from infections, the production of platelets can be hampered by toxic substances, radiation, and heavy alcohol consumption.

Another meaning of low platelet counts is that the body’s immune system may be consuming platelets. Platelets can be consumed or utilized by the body faster than it can be manufactured. Pregnancy in women lowers platelet counts. Bacterial infections may destroy platelets at a fast rate, lowering their numbers in the blood. Dengue fever causes drop in platelets due to hemorrhaging and the body’s attempt to cope with the disease. Another severe cause of low platelet count is thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura or TTP. It is a condition in which platelets attract one another, forming blood clots. Another condition is Ideophatic thrombocytopenic purpura. In this condition, the antibodies of a person attacks platelets, diminishing their numbers. Some drugs, particularly those used for chemotherapy or those that damage the bone marrow may also deplete platelet counts in the body.

The first step in treating low platelet counts is identifying the root cause. Usually, treatments are at a case to case basis, and if the cause is life threatening, other symptoms may be addressed first before treating low platelet counts. Some herbs like tawa-tawa, papaya leaves and Neem leaves are said to be able to augment the body’s platelet counts, particularly after dengue fever.  A healthy lifestyle is always the first defense against platelet disorders.[ad#afterpost]

Reference

  • Loscalzo, Joseph; Fauci, Anthony S.; Braunwald, Eugene; Dennis L. Kasper; Hauser, Stephen L; Longo, Dan L. (2008). Harrison’s principles of internal medicine. McGraw-Hill Medical