Low platelet count – what it means

November 12, 2012

Low platelet count – what it means

Platelets are the blood cells used in the clotting process of blood – without sufficient platelets there is a danger of excessive bleeding even from a minor injury or bruise. Platelets also prevent the leakage of red blood cells from blood vessels that do not appear to be injured.

Low platelet count

There are many reasons why a low platelet count, or thrombocytopenia, may develop – and, on occasion, there is no apparent cause for the condition. Blood platelets are produced in the bone marrow – when they are lost from the blood at a faster rate than they can be produced in the bone marrow the platelet count will decrease.

There are a number of side effects for individuals experiencing a low platelet count -

  • Increased bleeding during nosebleeds, of the gums etc
  • Development of purpura – tiny bleeds on the skin
  • Increased bruising
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Restriction to the type of exercise the individual may partake in

A normal platelet count is considered to be between 150,000 and 400,000 – a count is low when it drops to between 50,000 and 100,000, at this point there is a mild risk of increased bleeding developing following injury of any kind.

Known causes

It is believed that there are a number of health issues that may lead to the development of a low platelet count. These include -

  • Bone marrow disease
  • Chemotherapy treatments
  • Autoimmune malfunction – such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis
  • Viral infections
  • Excessive consumption of alcohol
  • Vitamin B deficiency
  • Adverse reaction to a blood transfusion

Patients who develop a low platelet count with no underlying cause are referred to as having idiopathic thrombocytopenia (idiopathic simply means ‘no known cause’)

Care during exercise

Patients living with a low platelet count must take extra care with exercise – and some forms of physical activity should be avoided. This is due to the risk of injury during exercise – tiny injuries may occur to body tissue or blood vessels that may not be effectively stopped in the absence of platelets, this, in turn, may lead to the development of abnormal bruising, purpura and carries the risk of serious side effects. Even a minor scrape to a low platelet patient may require emergency medical attention as it may bleed so severely.

Recommendations for exercise

There are specific recommendations for patients with a low platelet count – these recommendations relate to the different levels of platelets -

  • A platelet count of less than 15,000 means that all exercise should be avoided
  • A count of between 15,000 and 20,000 means that gentle, resistance exercise may be partaken in – such as exercising whilst sitting, gentle stretching or a gentle stroll
  • Those patients with a platelet count of between 20,000 and 40,000 may do some light resistance training with weights and bands, take a more strenuous walk and climb stairs
  • Platelet levels of between 40,000 and 60,000 mean that exercise may be more vigorous – golfing and using an exercise bike for example
  • Anything over 60,000, but still below a normal level, means that, whilst taking the proper precautions and wearing the correct protective equipment, aerobic exercise such as cycling and jogging may be undertaken.

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