What Is Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura?
Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) is a
bleeding condition in which the blood doesnt clot as it should. This is
due to a low number of blood cells called platelets (PLATE-lets).
Platelets are also called thrombocytes
(THROM-bo-sites), and theyre made in your bone marrow (along with other
kinds of blood cells). Platelets circulate through the blood vessels and help
stop bleeding by sticking together (clotting) to seal small cuts or breaks.
Idiopathic (id-ee-o-PATH-ick) means that the cause
of the disease or condition isnt known. Thrombocytopenic
(throm-bo-cy-toe-PEE-nick) means there is a lower-than-normal number of
platelets in the blood. Purpura (PURR-purr-ah) are purple bruises caused by
bleeding under the skin. More extensive bleeding can create a three-dimensional
mass called a hematoma (he-ma-TO-ma).
The photograph show purpura
(bruises) in the skin. Bleeding under the skin causes the purple, brown, and
red color of the purpura.
People who have ITP often have purple bruises that
appear on the skin or on the mucous membranes (for example, in the mouth). The
bruises mean that bleeding has occurred 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 dots, often seen on the lower legs, are called
petechiae (peh-TEE-kee-ay). Petechiae may look like a rash.
People with ITP may have nosebleeds, bleeding from
the gums when they have dental work done, or other bleeding thats hard to
stop. Women with ITP may have heavy menstrual bleeding.
Bleeding in the brain as a result of ITP is very
rare, but can be life threatening if it occurs.
In most cases, the bodys immune system is
thought to cause ITP. Normally your immune system helps your body fight off
infections and diseases, but if you have ITP, your immune system attacks and
destroys its own plateletsfor an unknown reason.
Types of Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura
There are two types of ITP: acute (temporary or
short-term) and chronic (long-lasting).
Acute ITP generally lasts less than 6 months. It
mainly occurs in children, both boys and girls, and is the most common type of
ITP. It often occurs after an infection caused by a virus.
Chronic ITP is long-lasting (6 months or longer) and
mostly affects adults. However, some teenagers and even younger children can
get this type of ITP. Chronic ITP affects women 2 to 3 times more often than
men. Treatment depends on how severe the bleeding symptoms are and the platelet
count. In mild cases, treatment may not be needed.
For most children and adults, ITP isnt a
serious or life-threatening condition.
Acute ITP in children often goes away on its own
within a few weeks or months and doesnt return. In 80 percent of children
who have ITP, the platelet count returns to normal within 6 to 12 months.
Treatment may not be needed. A small number of children, about 5 percent, whose
ITP doesnt go away on its own may need to have further medical or
Chronic ITP will vary with each individual and can
last many years. Even people who have severe forms of chronic ITP can live for
decades. Most people with chronic ITP are able at some point to stop treatment
and keep a safe platelet count.