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Immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP)

ITP; Immune thrombocytopenia; Bleeding disorder - idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura; Bleeding disorder - ITP; Autoimmune - ITP; Low platelet count - ITP

Immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) is a bleeding disorder in which the immune system destroys platelets, which are necessary for normal blood clotting. People with the disease have too few platelets in the blood.

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Causes

ITP occurs when certain immune system cells produce antibodies against platelets. Platelets help your blood clot by clumping together to plug small holes in damaged blood vessels.

The antibodies attach to the platelets. The body destroys the platelets that carry the antibodies.

In children, the disease sometimes follows a viral infection. In adults, it is more often a long-term (chronic) disease and can occur after a viral infection, with use of certain drugs, during pregnancy, or as part of an immune disorder.

ITP affects women more often than men. It is more common in children than adults. In children, the disease affects boys and girls equally.

Symptoms

ITP symptoms can include any of the following:

Exams and Tests

Blood tests will be done to check your platelet count.

A bone marrow aspiration or biopsy may also be done.

Treatment

In children, the disease usually goes away without treatment. Some children may need treatment.

Adults are usually started on a steroid medicine called prednisone or dexamethasone. In some cases, surgery to remove the spleen (splenectomy) is recommended. This increases the platelet count in about half of people. However, other drug treatments are usually recommended instead.

If the disease does not get better with prednisone, other treatments may include:

People with ITP should not take aspirin, ibuprofen, or warfarin, because these drugs interfere with platelet function or blood clotting, and bleeding may occur.

Support Groups

More information and support for people with ITP and their families can be found at:

Outlook (Prognosis)

With treatment, the chance of remission (a symptom-free period) is good. In rare cases, ITP may become a long-term condition in adults and reappear, even after a symptom-free period.

Possible Complications

Sudden and severe loss of blood from the digestive tract may occur. Bleeding into the brain may also occur.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Go to the emergency room or call 911 or the local emergency number if severe bleeding occurs, or if other new symptoms develop.

Related Information

Bleeding disorders
Antibody

References

Abrams CS. Thrombocytopenia. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 163.

Arnold DM, Zeller MP, Smith JW, Nazy I. Diseases of platelet number: Immune thrombocytopenia, neonatal alloimmune thrombocytopenia, and posttransfusion purpura. In: Hoffman R, Benz EJ, Silberstein LE, et al, eds. Hematology: Basic Principles and Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 131.

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Review Date: 2/6/2020  

Reviewed By: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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