Thrombocytopenia is a medical term referring to a low platelet count in the blood. Platelets are blood cells devoted to forming clots. They’re dispatched to stop bleeding at a site of an injury and are crucial parts of keeping our blood system stable, called hemostasis.
Thrombocytopenia is normally diagnosed through laboratory testing called a complete blood count (CBC). When a CBC test reveals that the patient has thrombocytopenia, a surprising number of physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners take a “wait and see” approach rather than investigating the potential causes for the low platelet count.
To be clear, the standard of care requires doctors and mid-level providers involved in a patient’s care to do a further workup to identify and treat the underlying cause of thrombocytopenia. In other words, they need to ask the question, “What’s causing the low platelet count?”
Generally speaking, there are three potential explanations for where a patient’s platelets are going—they’re not being made, they’re being destroyed, or they’re being used or consumed.
Platelets are created in the bone marrow. When the bone marrow isn’t functioning properly because of leukemia or some other reason, platelets won’t be produced. That, in turn, lowers the patient’s platelet count.
When there’s not a problem in the bone marrow, but the platelet count is low, another potential cause is that the patient’s immune system is destroying the platelets. This happens when platelets are tagged with antibodies and then killed by the immune system. Common medical conditions leading to the destruction of platelets include idiopathic/immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP), heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (heparin is a blood thinner), and neonatal alloimmune thrombocytopenia (NAIT).
The final possible category that physicians must explore as an explanation for low platelet count is called a consumptive process. Like the name suggests, this means that the platelets are being consumed or used. This occurs when there’s active clotting or thrombosis, as well as in conditions including thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP), hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), and disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC).
Regardless of the cause, when a person’s platelet count is too low, the body is unable to stop bleeding. In some cases, thrombocytopenia directly leads to internal bleeding.
Immediate treatments may involve a transfusion of blood or platelets, or a blood plasma exchange. Once the cause of the platelet problem is identified, prescription drug therapy or surgery may be required to correct it. What is clear, though, is thrombocytopenia is not something that can be ignored.
If you’ve been seriously injured because of poor healthcare involving thrombocytopenia or blood issues in Texas, then contact a top-rated experienced Texas medical malpractice lawyer for free consultation about your potential case. We investigate these cases in conjunction with nursing and hematology (physicians with specialization in blood disorders) to determine what happened and if negligence was involved.