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What is Thrombocythemia?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2016
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In rare instances one of the main components of blood gets produced in greater volume than normal. This can happen with platelets, red cells or white cells and it is called a myeloproliferative disorder. When platelets, the cells that help blood clot, are overproduced, the condition may be known as essential or reactive thrombocythemia or thrombocytosis. This can be a dangerous condition that greatly increases risk of complications like blood clot formation and strokes, though severity of expression and risk may vary in individuals.

Symptoms of thrombocythemia can be highly varied, and people might have a lot of symptoms or none at all. If expression of the illness is present, it might include both tendency to form blood clots and tendency to bleed profusely or hemorrhage because platelets are not functioning as normal. Other potential symptoms of the disease include easy bruising, tendency for stools to look bloody, low energy or fatigue, and lymph node enlargement. Yet for some people the only symptom would be evidence of higher platelet count on blood testing.

The two types of thrombocythemia may change the way the condition is treated. In reactive forms of the illness there is another factor causing it, which may be addressed by a variety of medical means. The fact that this form is called reactive is highly indicative of what occurs. The body is reacting to another illness or condition by overproducing platelets.

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Such underlying conditions might include diseases that have chronic inflammation as a symptom, like some autoimmune disorders. Other times dysfunction of the spleen or lack of a spleen may result in thrombocythemia. Some people develop this illness after having surgery. At times, the best way to address reactive thrombocythemia is to cure or treat the underlying condition causing it, though this is not always possible. Things like inflammatory diseases might be addressed through treatment, helping to resolve high platelet count, but a missing spleen can’t be.

When treating essential thrombocytosis, treatment may depend on different factors. First, if people are showing no symptoms, initial treatment course could be to watch and wait to see if the condition worsens. People might take aspirin during this time to prevent platelets from clotting. If symptoms are already present and creating risk, there could be a number of things recommended.

Sometimes chemotherapy is suggested, as this reduces platelet count. Another possible course is to remove platelets from the body. This is a treatment known as platepheresis, which is normally used so that people can donate platelets. For thrombocythemia, the purpose is to strip the blood of excess platelets to avoid expression of the disease. The procedure might need to be repeated. Certain medications may also be used to help reduce production of platelets in the future.

In all cases, thrombocytosis is a potentially risky illness that requires constant medical follow-up. Even when people are asymptomatic, the disease may worsen, creating risk of life to the affected person. Both forms of the condition are fortunately rare.

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