Blood Clotting Disorder Hypercoagulation Thrombocythemia

Platelets, or thrombocytes, are an important part of the blood and help a person’s blood form clots. Clotting is an essential function, and keeps a person from losing an excessive amount of blood when he is injured. Several disorders can impact a person’s ability to properly produce platelets. One of these disorders is called thrombocythemia.

A patient who has thrombocythemia produces too many platelets. Platelets are manufactured in bone marrow and are removed from the blood stream by the spleen. An excessive number of platelets causes a person to experience abnormal bleeding and/or clotting.

Thrombocythemia is rare, with only 20 to 30 people per 1 million developing the disorder. Patients who develop thrombocythemia are usually more than 50 years old and are also more likely to be women than men.

Symptoms of Thrombocythemia

Thrombocythemia can be difficult to diagnose, due to the fact that as many as two-thirds of thrombocythemia patients are asymptomatic, meaning they experience no symptoms.

When symptoms are present, they may include:

  • bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract
  • bleeding of the skin, gums or nose
  • bruising
  • burning sensation in the extremities
  • enlarged lymph nodes (rare)
  • enlarged spleen (roughly 60 percent of patients exhibit this symptom)
  • headaches
  • nosebleeds
  • numbness
  • pain in the chest or legs
  • redness in the extremities
  • weakness.

Complications from thrombocythemia can include gangrene as well as heart attacks and strokes, which can also be symptoms of thrombocythemia.

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, schedule an appointment with your doctor. Diagnosing thrombocythemia might require an examination of bone marrow and blood tests to determine the platelet count in the blood.

Causes of Thrombocythemia

When the cause of thrombocythemia is unknown, a person is said to be suffering from essential thrombocythemia. Though no one knows the exact cause of essential thrombocythemia, recent research points to a mutation in a blood protein that appears in about half of the patients diagnosed with essential thrombocythemia.

Secondary thrombocythemia does have traceable causes, including:

  • anemia
  • blood loss
  • chemotherapy
  • infections
  • inflammation
  • iron deficiencies
  • medications
  • some types of cancers
  • splenectomy (surgical removal of the spleen)
  • surgery.

Thrombocythemia Treatments

In some cases, thrombocythemia is not treated at all. In these cases, the patient is simply monitored by his doctor.

In part, the treatment of thrombocythemia depends on whether the diagnosis is essential thrombocythemia or secondary thrombocythemia. If the diagnosis is secondary thrombosis, part of the treatment will include treating and/or eliminating the cause.

A physician may treat essential thrombocythemia by asking the patient to take a low dosage of aspirin, which thins the blood.

Other treatments for thrombocythemia might include:

  • drugs, such as interferon alpha, that reduce the number of platelets produced in bone marrow
  • plateletpheresis, a procedure in which blood is withdrawn from the patient and the platelets are removed before being transferred back into the patient.

Thrombocythemia Prognosis

Dying from thrombocythemia is relatively rare. In some cases, if patients have chronic thrombocythemia, the end stages of thrombocythemia can develop into acute leukemia or myelofribrosis, a disease of the bone marrow. These conditions have a higher mortality rate and are much more severe than thrombocythemia.

Resources

Harrison, Claire N.; Samuel J. Machin (n.d.). Thrombocytosis and Essential Trhombocythaemia. Retrieved September 23, 2007, from Net Doctor Web site: http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/diseases/facts/thrombocytosis.htm.

Mayo Clinic (n.d.) Essential Thrombocythemia: What Causes It? Retrieved September 23, 2007, from the Mayo Clinic Web site: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/thrombocythemia/HQ00842.

Mayo Clinic (n.d.).Essential Thrombocythemia: When is Drug Therapy Necessary? Retrieved September 23, 2007, from the Mayo Clinic Web site: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/essential-thrombocythemia/AN01464.

Merck.com (n.d.) Essential Thrombocythemia. Retrieved September 23, 2007, from the Merck Manuals Online Medical Library Web site: http://www.merck.com/mmpe/sec11/ch141/ch141b.html.

University of Maryland (n.d.). Blood Diseases Thrombocythemia. Retrieved September 23, 2007, from the University of Maryland Medical Center Web site: http://www.umm.edu/blood/thrombo.htm.