Platelets are cells that are produced by bone marrow and released into the bloodstream. Their primary function is to release the hormones necessary to coagulate blood, preventing excessive blood loss from an internal or external injury. A normal platelet count for most humans is 150,000 to 450,000 per microliter of blood, and having a higher than average count can be indicative of serious health problems. A high platelet count can be caused by cancer, infections, anemia, and inflammatory diseases including rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease. A high platelet count can lead to excessive, dangerous blood clotting if left untreated.
The medical term for a high platelet count is thrombocytosis, a condition in which bone marrow cells produce too many platelets. Thrombocytosis can be either reactive or essential. Reactive thrombocytosis means that a high platelet count is a reaction to inflammation, infection, injury, anemia, or cancer, and essential thrombocytosis indicates that genetic conditions or hormone imbalances are causing irregular platelet formation. Individuals with the reactive form rarely experience symptoms, while people with essential thrombocytosis may suffer from blood clots in their extremities, nosebleeds, bloody stools, and unexplained bruising.
Individuals with essential thrombocytosis are at risk of developing dangerous blood clots that can lead to deep vein thrombosis, stroke, or heart attack. Reactive thrombocytosis may also result in excessive clotting, though the underlying causes are usually the most significant predictors of health problems. It is difficult to detect early warning signs of a high platelet count, and most people are unaware of their condition until they receive routine blood tests. A blood screening that suggests thrombocytosis will prompt a doctor to conduct a more thorough evaluation and determine the best means of treatment.
A physician might take more than one blood sample to get a clear analysis of a patient's platelet count. He or she generally asks the patient about medical and family history, including questions about past surgeries and diseases to determine if an underlying cause is leading to a high platelet count. Once the doctor has made a diagnosis of reactive or essential thrombocytosis, he or she will decide on the most appropriate treatment plan.
Treating reactive thrombocytosis usually involves curing the underlying cause. A patient may be given antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medicines to treat infections, or specialized drugs to combat anemia and other conditions that lead to a high platelet count. Doctors often suggest daily, low-dose aspirin for patients with essential thrombocytosis to help keep their blood from clotting. In severe cases, high-strength medications can be prescribed to suppress the production of platelets in bone marrow cells. Doctors usually suggest that patients with either type of thrombocytosis improve their daily diet and exercise routines, abstain from smoking, and schedule regular checkups to ensure they remain healthy.