What Are the Causes of Thrombocytopenia?

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  • Written By: Maggie J. Hall
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 02 November 2019
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Thrombocytopenia is a disorder in which the body is either unable to produce an adequate number of platelets or in which platelets in the bloodstream, liver, or spleen are destroyed. The condition may be congenital, may result from infection, or be a medication side effect. Dietary deficiencies, autoimmune disorders, and medical treatments may also cause thrombocytopenia.

Inherited conditions are one of the causes of thrombocytopenia. For example, Falconiā€™s anemia is a congenital condition that may affect platelet formation in the bone marrow at a molecular level. Researchers believe that the disease produces proteins that interfere with normal deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) production. Cells are unable to develop normally or reproduce without the proper genetic coding. DNA and protein synthesis can also be disrupted by severe bacterial, fungal, or viral infections.

Chemotherapy, and the antiseizure medication valproic acid, often interfere with the proteins necessary for platelet production, resulting in thrombocytopenia. Causes of thrombocytopenia can also include vitamin deficiencies. Folic acid, also known as vitamin B9, and vitamin B12 are necessary for protein production. Excess alcohol consumption can inhibit vitamin absorption and cause thrombocytopenia by interfering with protein production.


When platelets and other blood cells fail to mature properly, they may die in the bone marrow or shortly after entering the bloodstream. These accumulations of dead cells may hinder platelet development and circulation. Clogged pathways in bone marrow and the bloodstream may generate more cell death and thrombocytopenia. Autoimmune processes and chemicals also cause thrombocytopenia by direct destruction of the platelets.

Lupus and rheumatoid arthritis typically trigger immune responses that attack the body itself. These responses can be one of the causes of thrombocytopenia when antibodies consume or destroy platelets. Chemotherapy, heparin, infections, and various toxic substances can also contribute to diminished platelet counts in this manner. Antibodies produced through an autoimmune response generally attach to platelets and trigger a destructive action when the platelets pass through the liver or spleen.

Blood transfusions, cancer, and surgery can also be causes of thrombocytopenia, as they may produce a condition known as disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC). The body initially responds to a perceived injury by releasing proteins. These proteins may become overactive, creating numerous blood clots, which impede circulation and organ function. The massive release of proteins eventually causes depletion, which diminishes platelet development and function. Subsequently, patients experience excessive bleeding and further platelet loss.


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