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Immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP)

Definition

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.

Alternative Names

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

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:

  • Abnormally heavy periods in women
  • Bleeding into the skin, often around the shins, causing a skin rash that looks like pinpoint red spots (petechial rash)
  • Easy bruising
  • Nosebleed or bleeding in the mouth

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. 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:

  • Medicine called danazol (Danocrine) taken by mouth
  • Infusions of high-dose gamma globulin (an immune factor)
  • Drugs that suppress the immune system
  • Anti-RhD therapy for people with certain blood types
  • Drugs that stimulate the bone marrow to make more platelets

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

The following resources can provide more information on ITP:

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.

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

References

Abrams CS. Thrombocytopenia. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 172.

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.


Review Date: 1/19/2018
Reviewed By: Richard LoCicero, MD, private practice specializing in hematology and medical oncology, Longstreet Cancer Center, Gainesville, GA. 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.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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