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What is thrombocythemia?

Thrombocythemia is a  type of disease in which the bone marrow makes too many red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets. It results in too many platelets in the bone marrow. Too many platelets make normal clotting of blood difficult. This can result in too much clotting, or not enough clotting.

What causes thrombocythemia?

There may be no single cause for thrombocythemia. It is believed to be caused by defects in the platelet-making cells in the bone marrow.

What are the symptoms of thrombocythemia?

The following are the most common symptoms of thrombocythemia:

  • Blood clots in arteries and veins, commonly in the hands, feet, and brain 
  • Bruising easily
  • Bleeding from the nose, gums, and gastrointestinal tract
  • Bloody stools
  • Bleeding after injury or surgery
  • Weakness
  • Headache and dizziness 
  • Swollen lymph nodes

The symptoms of thrombocythemia may look like other blood disorders or medical problems. Always consult your health care provider for a diagnosis.

How is thrombocythemia diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical exam, you may also have blood tests to measure blood counts, and a blood smear to further assess your platelets. It’s also important to rule out other causes for these symptoms. Bone marrow biopsy also be needed. This involves removing bone marrow by aspiration or a needle biopsy.

How is thrombocythemia treated?

Treatment may include:

  • Chemotherapy. This is most often given with hydroxyurea, an oral chemotherapy drug, or interferon alpha. 
  • Plateletpheresis. This is a procedure to remove extra platelets from the blood.

How is thrombocythemia managed?

It’s important that you work with your health care provider to develop a treatment plan that meets your needs. It’s also important to avoid smoking, which may increase blood clots. Also, control other conditions such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Avoid factors that may increase bleeding including medications such as aspirin. Tell your health care provider if you notice bruising or other signs of bleeding.

Key points

  • Thrombocythemia causes the production of too many platelets in the bone marrow.
  • Too many platelets can cause blood clots or bleeding.
  • Symptoms include blood clots and signs of bleeding, such as bruises, bloody stools, and weakness.
  • Treatment includes medications and the removal of extra platelets from the blood.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:

  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.
  • At the visit, write down the names of new medicines, treatments, or tests, and any new instructions your provider gives you.
  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.
Online Medical Reviewer: Fetterman, Anne, RN, BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Freeborn, Donna, PhD, CNM, FNP
Date Last Reviewed: 1/30/2014
© 2000-2016 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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