Low blood platelets, a condition known as thrombocytopenia, can result in excessive bleeding or internal bleeding that can become life-threatening. Treatment for this condition depends on its cause and what other treatments have been used. Once platelet levels are returned to normal, the symptoms of thrombocytopenia should improve and patients can return to school or work.
After a diagnosis of thrombocytopenia, a physician may recommend bed rest to prevent injury. When there are not enough platelets circulating in the blood, the blood does not clot as well as it should when an injury occurs. An injury can cause excessive bleeding or internal bleeding that cannot be stopped. Once platelet levels have returned to normal, normal activities can be resumed.
People with low blood platelets may need blood transfusions to increase their platelet counts. This treatment is used in people who are actively bleeding or are at a high risk for developing bleeding due to their occupations or recreational activities. Donated blood is screened thoroughly for HIV, hepatitis and other diseases. It is then transfused through an IV line that is inserted into one of the blood vessels. For people who have recurrent bouts of thrombocytopenia due to chemotherapy, more than one blood transfusion may be necessary. For thrombocytopenia caused by chronic illnesses that destroy the bone marrow, blood transfusions are needed each time the platelet count drops low enough to cause excessive bleeding.
Disorders of the liver and spleen can cause a low platelet count. These disorders can cause the spleen to become enlarged. When the spleen is enlarged, it stores more platelets than necessary and reduces the number of platelets that are available in the blood. If an enlarged spleen is the cause of a low platelet count, doctors may decide to remove the spleen to treat thrombocytopenia that does not improve with other treatments.
Some medications may be used to treat thrombocytopenia that is caused by platelet destruction. When the body attacks platelets and destroys them, it reduces the blood platelet count. Corticosteroids are often used to block antibodies that destroy the platelets. Someone who needs an immediate improvement in the platelet count may be given immunoglobin through an intravenous line. If these treatments do not work, drugs to suppress the immune system and block the production of antibodies may be administered. The Mayo Clinic lists Cytoxan and Imuran as examples of immune suppressants that can be used to treat thrombocytopenia.
Plasmapheresis, also known as plasma exchange, can be used as a treatment for low blood platelets. During this procedure, whole blood is taken from the patient and the plasma is replaced. Once the plasma exchange has occurred, the blood is transfused back into the recipient. In addition to restoring blood platelets, this treatment can also remove antibodies that attack the platelets and other blood cells.