This article is meant to serve as a general primer on Blood Platelets.
What Are Blood Platelets?
Platelets are one of three major types of blood cells in the body (along with red blood cells and white blood cells). They are the smallest of the three types of blood cells, coming in at 1/5 the diameter of red blood cells, and numbering 150k-450k per microliter of blood in a healthy human, according to the NIH.
Platelets, like white blood cells and red blood cells, are produced by your bone marrow. They typically have a 7 to 10 day lifespan, so they keep your bone marrow busy, constantly producing more platelets. Blood platelets are clear cell fragments that do not have a nucleus with DNA. They are also known a thrombocytes.
What Do Blood Platelets Do?
The main job of platelets is to prevent bleeding. Platelets do this by clumping together and clotting. If you suffer a cut, it is the platelets in your blood that begin to stick together around the wound and prevent too much exposed blood from flowing out. Normal blood clotting around a wound is a good thing, but abnormal blood clots can cause stroke and heart attack.
What Do Blood Platelets Have To Do with My Health?
Platelets do more than just clump together and clot. They offer complex growth factors believed to play a role in the body’s regenerative processes. But that’s another article on platelet growth factors.
The main concern with platelets is whether they are working correctly (often referred to as normal platelet function or normal blood platelet function). If platelet function is impaired, excessive bleeding or excessive clotting can occur, and this can lead to platelet disorders. Low platelet counts can cause excessive bleeding or bruising, high platelet counts can cause abnormal clotting, and abnormalities with the platelets can cause problems, as well. Platelet abnormalities (thrombocytopathy) can occur with a low platelet count, a high platelet count, or with a normal platelet count. So just as Goldilocks wanted the third bowl of porridge that was neither too hot or too cold, you want the right number of platelets, functioning normally, that can ensure you don’t keep bleeding after an injury, but that you don’t also form unecessary blood clots.
In summary, there are three things that may be cause for worry with blood platelets:
- A low blood platelet count (thrombocytopenia)
- A high blood platelet count (thrombocytosis)
- Abnormal platelet function (thrombocytopathy)
Low Blood Platelet Count (Thrombocytopenia)
Low blood platelets counts can cause excessive bleeding when there aren’t enough platelets in your blood to clot and eventually stop bleeding. Normally, you should have 150,000 to 450,000 platelets per microliter (one millionth of a liter) of blood in your body. If your blood platelet count falls below that, then you could have a low blood platelet count. The technical term for a problematic low platelet count (especially 50,000 platelets per microliter and lower) is thrombocytopenia. Click Here for Low Blood Platelets
High Blood Platelet Count (Thrombocytosis)
If the number blood platelets is too high, this can lead to thrombosis, the formation of bad blood clots (and blood clots can cause a whole host of problems, including stroke, myocardial infarction, pulmonary embolism or the blockage of blood vessels heading to other parts of the body).
Since the purpose of platelets is to clot, this can seem a little confusing. Basically, you want platelets to naturally string together when you have an injury, to minimize blood loss. But you don’t want your bone marrow to produce so many excess platelets that they stick together and cause a blood clot where you don’t need it. That can block blood flow and cause real problems, depending on where it is in the body. Click for high blood platelets article.
Abnormal Platelet Function (Thrombocytopathy)
This is when the platelets that DO exist are not doing their job as they should due to an abnormality of platelets, known as thrombasthenia. This is a very rare but very serious problem and can occur with low platelets, normal platelets or high platelets. Click for abnormal platelet function article.
How Can I Avoid Abnormal Blood Platelet Counts or Function?*
This is the 64 thousand dollar question and in modern medicine appears not to have much of an answer, and is really beyond the scope of this article.
Idiopathic thrombocytopenia purpura is an autoimmune platelet condition that has “no known cause” right in the name, the word idiopathic. If there is no known cause, prevention then becomes a challenge. Some say that I.T.P. is an outmoded name since so much is known about the “cause” of I.T.P, more specifically that it is an autoimmune disorder where the immune system attacks the thrombocytes or platelets. But that “cause” is really another layer of symptoms, and doesn’t answer the question why, why does the immune system attack the thrombocytes?*
The bottom line is that as of yet, most all of the information available about blood platelet disorders deals with treating the symptoms. The true causes other than genetics, or genetic mutation remain a mystery. Not so for health care practitioners dealing with Eastern Medicine modalities and traditional medicinal practices. They believe the answer is simple, lack of balance in the body. That’s a pretty vague and holistic statement, however there has been some success in this approach for many thousands of years.*
Does Alternative Medicine Have An Opinion?*
Need we ask? PDSA.org is a site dedicated to I.T.P or Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura which is the bleeding disorder that occurs mostly in children. The site covers a lot of ground including all kinds of treatment. They mention many alternative approaches to I.T.P. treatment including Chinese herbal remedies and Ayurvedic medicine http://www.pdsa.org/treatments/complementary/traditional-chinese-ayurvedic.html.
Blood Platelets Conclusion
Thrombocytes are critically important to health and more and more is being learned just how critical they are. We hope you have enjoyed this short primer on blood platelets.
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