Platelets are responsible for blood coagulation or the formation of blood clots - a defense mechanism to prevent blood loss. A platelet count test measures the number of platelets in a single unit of blood. A normal platelet count would range between 150,000 to 400,000 per microliter of blood. Normal value ranges may vary slightly amongst laboratories, where the tests are performed. Elevated or reduced platelet counts can be red flags to diagnose an underlying medical condition, though a low platelet count is generally seen as a greater potential health threat.
Thrombocythemia and Thrombocytosis
A situation where a person has an elevated platelet count can be diagnosed in two ways. When the defective cells present in the bone marrow produce too many platelets, the condition is called thrombocythemia or primary/essential thrombocythemia. The exact cause of this condition is not known. Certain gene mutations have been linked to essential thrombocythemia. People, who suffer from this condition, do not need medical intervention, if their health is stable. As platelets are made in the bone marrow along with the red and white blood cells, the condition may or may not lead to other blood cell disorders.
When some disease or condition causes a high platelet count, the condition is referred to as thrombocytosis. Thrombocytosis can further be classified into primary (essential) and secondary (reactive) thrombocytosis.
Causes of Primary (Essential) Thrombocytosis
This is a medical condition in which the bone marrow overproduces the cells that form platelets (megakaryocytes). A bone marrow disorder often leads to primary thrombocytosis. In rare cases, essential thrombocytosis can give rise to acute myeloid leukemia, where there is a swift rise of white blood cells in the bone marrow, at the cost of the production of normal blood cells. The occurrence of primary thrombocytosis is dangerous during pregnancy. High platelet count during pregnancy can lead to serious complications, sometimes leading to spontaneous abortion, or fetal death. Seek the advice of a hematologist if you suffer from primary thrombocytosis, and are looking to get pregnant.
Causes of Secondary (Reactive) Thrombocytosis
When high platelet count is a result of the body's reaction to an infection, medication, disease, or surgery, the condition is known as reactive thrombocytosis. High platelet count in infants is mostly due to reactive thrombocytosis. The possible factors that lead to this condition are listed below:
➺ Post Surgical Trauma: Sometimes, a surgery can damage a tissue, causing a rise in platelet counts. An accident, or an external injury can also give rise to an elevated platelet count. This is the body's natural defense mechanism to entail blood coagulation, in order to prevent excessive loss of blood.
➺ Infection: This is one of the major high platelet count causes in children. In adults, an infection may cause the opposite effect, that is a lowering of platelet count. The count generally returns to normal once the infection is treated. Children may also be affected by a rare condition known as Kawasaki's disease, which occurs as a result of inflammation of the arteries.
➺ Medication: Some drugs can sometimes result in an increased platelet count. This symptom will cease to exist once the drug is discontinued. Conversely, these drugs (like some steroids) are used to treat people with a low platelet count. Medicines such as Epinephrine (Adrenalin Chloride, EpiPen), Vincristine, Tretinoin, can cause reactive thrombocytosis.
➺ Disorders/Absence of the Spleen: The spleen is responsible for the removal of platelets from the blood. When the spleen is not functioning properly, it can cause an elevated platelet count. High platelet count can also be linked to surgical removal of the spleen. Some other conditions which can raise the platelet count are listed below.
➺ Chronic kidney failure or any other type of kidney disorder
➺ Degenerative diseases like cancer, for example, bone cancer and chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML)
➺ Severe allergic reactions
➺ Heart attack
➺ Chronic inflammation, due to rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, connective tissue disorders, or inflammatory bowel disease
➺ Iron deficiency anemia
➺ Hemolytic anemia, in which red blood cells in the blood are destroyed earlier than normal
Usually, a high platelet count doesn't exhibit any symptoms. Sometimes, serious symptoms, such as, blood clots and bleeding are seen. Those who have primary thrombocythemia are more likely to exhibit such symptoms. Thrombocytosis can also be difficult to diagnose without a blood test. However, the following are some symptoms that may indicate you have an elevated platelet count:
- Paraesthesia (tingling in the hands and feet)
- Cold extremities
- Chest pain
- Muscle spasms
- Blurry vision
- Easy bruising (this is particularly seen in infants)
The treatment for elevated platelet count will depend on the underlying cause. Drugs that reduce the platelet count, for example hydroxy carbamide and busulfan can be used. However, if the elevated platelet count is accompanied by an increase in the viscosity, then blood thinners that reduce the viscosity of blood (aspirin, warfarin) can be used.
High platelet count causes can best be diagnosed by a medical practitioner by performing a series of tests. As with all conditions relating to health and medication, it's best to visit the doctor and get yourself treated. An early diagnosis can also help in the detection of a medical condition that can be arrested quickly.
The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.