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Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) is a bleeding disorder in which the blood does not clot as it should. This is due to a low number of blood cell fragments called platelets.
Platelets also are called thrombocytes. They're made in your bone marrow along with other kinds of blood cells. Platelets stick together (clot) to seal small cuts or breaks on blood vessel walls and stop bleeding.
"Idiopathic" means that the cause of the condition is not known. "Thrombocytopenic" means there is a lower-than-normal number of platelets in the blood. "Purpura" refers to purple bruises caused by bleeding in small blood vessels under the skin.
A person who has ITP also may have bleeding that results in tiny red or purple dots on the skin. These pinpoint-sized dots are called petechiae. Petechiae may look like a rash.
Types of ITP
There are two types of ITP: acute (temporary or short-term) ITP and chronic (long-lasting) ITP.
Having a low platelet count doesn’t cause symptoms. However, the bleeding that a low platelet count can cause may have the following signs and symptoms:
Any kind of bleeding that's hard to stop could be a sign of ITP. This includes menstrual bleeding in women that’s heavier than usual.
Bleeding in the brain is rare, and the symptoms of bleeding in the brain may vary in severity.
A low number of platelets doesn't cause pain, fatigue (tiredness), problems concentrating, or any other symptoms.
To diagnose ITP, doctors use your medical history, a physical exam, and blood tests that usually include:
You also may have a blood test to check for the antibodies that attack platelets.
If blood tests show that you have a low number of platelets, your doctor may recommend more tests to confirm a diagnosis of ITP. For example, bone marrow tests may be used to see whether your bone marrow is making platelets.
In most cases, it's believed that an autoimmune response causes idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP).
Normally, the immune system makes antibodies (proteins) to fight off germs or other harmful things that enter the body. In ITP, however, the immune system attacks and destroys the body's platelets by mistake. Why this happens isn't known.
Children who get acute (short-term) ITP often have had recent viral infections. It's possible that the infection somehow "triggers" or sets off the immune reaction that leads to ITP in these children. ITP in adults, on the other hand, doesn't seem to be linked to infections.