High platelet count – causes

A high platelet count is a condition referred to as thrombocythemia or thrombocytosis.

Also known as thrombocytes, platelets are tiny parts of cells which prevent bleeding from wounds and injuries by sticking to one another and to the wall of the damaged blood vessels. This forms a clot which then prevents further bleeding. There are several factors which can alter the normal count of platelets, the most prevalent of which are race and exercise.

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A healthy individual will have a normal platelet count between 150,000 and 450,000 platelets per microliter. A high platelet count of 750,000 per microliter or more is a symptom of some severe underlying disorder which needs immediate treatment. High platelet count can either be the main condition, or can be a reaction to some other condition. Additional symptoms are often not noticeable. High platelet count is usually diagnosed in two to three individual per 100,000 people.

Symptoms of high platelet count

A high platelet count does not cause any visible or apparent signs and symptoms. The condition is usually detected during a blood test. Most symptoms associated with high platelet count often arises as part of the underlying condition causing it. A few common symptoms of high platelet count are listed below:

  • High platelet count in the blood can cause spontaneously clotting of blood. This can lead to obstructions in the free passage of blood via the blood vessels. The big vessels may experience such clotting, but the smaller blood vessels are more prone to it. Such spontaneous occurrence of blood clots can adversely affect the blood vessels that supply blood to vital organs like the liver, brain, and the heart, resulting in varied health abnormalities.
  • High platelet count can increase the risk to occurrence of heart attacks or a stroke as well as development of deep vein thrombosis and/or transient ischemic attack.
  • Spontaneous blood clots formation is usually more common in the elderly as opposed to the younger population.
  • Patients may elicit tingling sensations, numbness, or burning or throbbing pain in the feet and hands. They may also experience cold extremities, such as cold fingertips.
  • High platelet count can cause chest pain. Chest pain can be a symptom of a heart attack; hence immediate medical attention is needed.
  • Anemia can cause high platelet count. This can cause the affected person to experience lightheadedness, dizziness, and/or fainting.
  • Infants affected by increased number of platelets in the blood may suffer from easy bruising.
  • A high platelet count that causes a blood clot to form in the limbs or brain can result in enlargement of the spleen and/or liver.
  • Patients may elicit minor bleeding such as bloody stool or bleeding in the digestive system, nosebleeds, and/or bleeding from the gums or mouth.
  • Other symptoms of a high platelet count include weakness, headaches, blurry vision or other disturbances in sight, and muscle spasms.

Causes of high platelet count

High platelet count can occur due to many different reasons. It usually occurs due to 2 main processes that are classified as primary/essential thrombocytosis and secondary/reactive thrombocytosis.

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  • Primary thrombocytosis: In this, the high platelet count is caused due to overproduction of platelets by the bone marrow. The cause of such abnormal behavior of the bone marrow is usually unknown. Patients typically do not need any medical attention if they do not elicit any health problems.
  • Reactive or secondary thrombocytosis:In this, a high platelet count occurs as a reaction to some other health abnormality such as infections, surgery, etc. High platelet count in most infants arises due to this cause.
    • Improper functioning/conditions of the spleen: The spleen is an organ that helps remove platelets from the body, thereby decreasing their numbers and helping maintain a normal platelet count. Any kind of problem with the spleen, including the absence of spleen (i.e., a surgically removed spleen), can cause the platelet number to rise significantly thereby causing a high platelet count.
    • Trauma after surgery: Surgery can sometimes result in damage to tissues. Such tissue damage can also occur due to external injuries, trauma, or accidents. In such cases, the natural defense mechanism of the body causes coagulation of the blood so as to prevent excessive loss of blood. This then eventually causes a high platelet count. The situation can also arise due to iron deficiency and/or hemorrhage.
    • Rheumatoid arthritis: Arthritis is a condition that affects the joint. As bone marrow is present in the joints, the inflammation associated with arthritis can adversely affect the functioning of the bone marrow. The inflammation triggers increased production of platelets by the bone marrow thus causing high platelet count. Other conditions and diseases which cause inflammation in varied other areas of the body can similarly cause high platelet count.
    • Infection: Any kind of infection tends to lower the platelet count in adults. However, in children, the effect of infection is exactly the opposite; that is, the number of platelets increase. The body releases elevated number of platelets to counter the infection. High platelet count in children returns to normal after the infection is cured.
    • Kawasaki’s disease: It is a rare condition characterized by inflammation of arteries, which also affects children and causes high platelet count.
    • Cancer: Healthy tissues can get damaged due to varied cancers eventually causing loss of blood. This triggers the bone marrow to increase the production of platelets leading to high platelet count.
    • Medicines: Use of certain drugs can result in high platelet count. Discontinuing the use of such medications will help reduce platelet count to normal.

Treatment 

Treatment of high platelet count is aimed at diagnosing the underlying cause and then curing it as per standard procedures.

  • Anemia is treated with relevant medications.
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs can alleviate inflammation, while antibiotics can treat infections.
  • Blood thinners can help prevent formation of blood clots.
  • Severe cases of high platelet count may require the use of suppressants that inhibit the bone marrow from producingincreased platelets.
  • Changes in the diet. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish help decrease stickiness of the cell membranes and make them more flexible, thereby helping prevent clumping of the blood. Antioxidants in pomegranates help normalize high platelet count. Red wine suppresses increased manufacture of cells in the linings of the arteries, thereby helping decrease platelet count.
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