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Having a low platelet count means that the blood possesses too few thrombocytes or specialized blood cells called platelets that help to aid in blood clotting. This condition is also called thrombocytopenia, and it can be mild to highly serious, depending on the platelet count and on the underlying cause. Treatment of this condition usually depends on these two factors: cause and severity. There are several treatments possible including “watch and wait,” medications, blood transfusions or platelet transfusions, and surgery.
Very common conditions may result in low platelet count, like pregnancy. The reduction in platelet amounts is usually not huge, and doctors tend to opt not to treat this condition, though they may take a wait and watch approach. Most women do recover from thrombocytopenia caused by pregnancy after the pregnancy ends. Another time this approach could be favored is when people have just had a virus, especially kids, and have mild thrombocytopenia. Children are particularly good at recovering from low counts because their bone marrow tends to produce platelets rapidly.
Other times, doctors opt to treat low platelets by giving medications. This is particularly the case when people have idiopathic thrombocytopenia purpura (ITP, where the body mistakes platelets as a foreign substance and begins to destroy them). Some medications may cause the body to assume this stance too. When ITP is present, doctors may give medications that turn off this immune response to platelets. In treating ITP, another option is to remove the spleen, which may be aggravating the immune response to platelets and which may help the body stop attacking thrombocytes.
One of the main approaches to addressing this condition is to give blood transfusions or platelet transfusions. Both may be necessary. Having very low platelets may cause internal bleeding and blood may need to be replaced. Platelet transfusion can also be an important preventative so people do not have internal bleeding. Things like cancer and the treatments for cancer can result in chronic low platelet count, and doctors, knowing this, will often have patients undergo platelet transfusions so patients can avoid severe thrombocytopenia.
There are extremely dangerous conditions that involve a low platelet count including thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP). This occurs suddenly and may create blood clots throughout the body, which employ most of the body’s platelets. A very low platelet count is the result, and the condition is medically urgent. It tends to be treated with blood transfusions, platelet transfusions and kidney dialysis, to forestall the damage this condition may create. Plasmapheresis, where blood is removed from the body, filtered and returned, is a common part of treatment for TTP too.