Immune Thrombocytopenic Purpura

What Is Immune Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP)?

ITP is an autoimmune disease, also known as Idiopathic Thombocytopenic Purpura.   In autoimmune diseases the body mounts an immune attack toward normal organ systems or body functions.  In ITP, the platelets are the target.  Platelets are the blood cells that help to clot our blood when we are bleeding.  Because platelets are destroyed, people with ITP are at risk for bleeding.

What Causes ITP?

The specific cause is unknown.  Some cases appear after a viral or bacterial infection, after exposure to a toxin or in association with another illness such as lupus.  It is important for you to recall for your doctor what was happening in your life before you began having a low platelet count.

What Is A Normal Platelet Count?

A normal platelet count ranges from 150,000-400,000.  Patients with severe ITP have platelet counts less than 10,000.

What Are The Symptoms Of ITP?

The symptoms vary from person to person.  Most people will begin to bruise easily; some will have petechiae, which are red dots on the skin caused by leaks in the capillary walls.  People may also have nosebleeds or blood in the urine or stool.  The more bleeding, the lower the platelet count is apt to be.

How Is ITP Diagnosed?

Your physician will rule out other causes of your low platelets.  If no other cause is found, it is assumed that you have ITP.  There is no definitive test for ITP.  Your workup to rule out other causes may include blood tests and a bone marrow biopsy.

How Is ITP Treated?

There are several treatments for ITP.  Steroids and gammaglobulin infusions are some of the most common.  In some cases, removal of the spleen may be recommended and chemotherapy may also be necessary.  Be sure you ask your doctor about the possible treatments and the associated benefits and toxicities of each treatment.

Can ITP Be Cured?

Some cases of ITP are acute and only last a few months. Some are chronic and linger for years.  Some go into remission for a long time.  The course of the disease is unpredictable, but most people lead normal lives.  Be sure to follow up with your physician as directed and report any new symptoms that may indicate that your platelet count has dropped again.