Medical Q&As

ITP - what is it?

Can you please give me information on ITP? I know it is a blood disorder where you are not producing enough platelets. I would be grateful if you could give me more information.

Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) is indeed a disorder of the blood due to an insufficient number of platelets. The term idiopathic means that the cause is unknown. Platelets have an important role in the first stage of clotting. They are sticky cells that clump together in order to form a tiny plug that prevents blood from leaking out of the tiny blood vessels known as capillaries. Most cases occur before the early twenties and it is more common in females. It presents in acute and chronic forms with the latter being the most common presentation. Chronic ITP is characterised by gradual insidious onset with alternating remissions and exacerbations. Sufferers present to the doctor with spontaneous bruising and may have tiny blood spots on the skin that are called purpuric spots. Some people complain with frequent nosebleeds and some women notice that their menstrual blood loss has increased. Blood testing revels that the platelet count is low. Treatment usually consists of the administration of steroids over several weeks. Generally no further treatment is needed if the platelet count remains normal after the cessation of steroids. A minority of patients continue to relapse and may need a splenectomy, which is the surgical term for the removal of the spleen. The rationale for performing this procedure is that the spleen may be contributing to the problem by breaking down the platelets too quickly thereby shortening their life span. However, I hasten to add that it is not often that splenectomy needs to be performed. The prognosis for ITP is good and most people do well on medical treatment.