Immune Thrombocytopenia Purpura (ITP)

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Immune thrombocytopenia purpura (ITP) is a bleeding disorder that reduces the number of platelets in your blood. Platelets are small cells in your blood that stick together to form blood clots. These clots help stop bleeding. Without enough platelets, you can bruise bruise or bleed from even minor injuries.

There's two types of ITP:

  • Acute ITP lasts less than six months and usually occurs in children

  • Chronic ITP lasts longer than six months and usually occurs in adults

What Causes ITP?

A fault in your immune system causes ITP. Your immune system places a tag on platelet cells that marks them as foreign material. Organs like the spleen and liver will then remove the tagged platelets as they pass through in the blood. Over time, this process reduces the number of platelets in your blood. Eventually, you lose enough platelets that your blood can't clot.

ITP Symptoms

You might notice the following symptoms:

  • Easy bruising

  • Blood in urine or stools

  • Bleeding for longer than normal following an injury

  • Unexplained nosebleeds

  • Bleeding from the gums

  • In adult women, heavier-than-normal menstrual periods

  • Red dots may occur in groups and resemble a rash

Diagnosing ITP at UVA

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and perform physical and blood exams. The doctor may use these tests to:

  • Analyze levels of different blood cells, including platelets

  • Test your blood's clotting ability

  • Look for infections or other medical issues associated with ITP

  • End other medical conditions

Platelets originate in your bone marrow. If your platelets are low, then your doctor may sample your blood marrow. This will show whether other conditions are damaging the production of platelet cells.

Treating Immune Thrombocytopenia Purpura

Some treatment options include:

  • Medications

  • Steroids to calm down the immune system, so it will stop killing platelets

  • Gamma globulin infusions to slow down platelet destruction through an IV

  • Platelet transfusion

  • Surgery    

How to Avoid Bleeding When You Have ITP   

To decrease the chance of bleeding injuries:

  • Stop contact sports such as football and rough game playing when platelet counts are low.

  • Avoid medications that contain aspirin or ibuprofen. These medicines can reduce platelet activity.