Platelets

Platelets, or thrombocytes, are tested for each blood count. Their amount affects the disturbed, too weak blood clotting (when there are too few thrombocytes) or its excessive clotting (when there are too many thrombocytes). A complete blood count, which also determines the level of thrombocytes, is ordered in the case of excessive bleeding and haemorrhage, bruises or bone marrow diseases.

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1. What are platelets?

Platelets are blood cells called thrombocytes. They play an important role in the blood clotting process that they initiate. They are also responsible for the process of fibrinolysis (i.e. the process of decomposition of a clot) and vasoconstriction. They are smaller than the rest of the morphotic components in human blood.

2. Blood platelet testing

A standard blood count is sufficient to test the platelet level. Blood is drawn from a vein in the arm. Platelet levels are primarily measured in the presence of (or suspected) coagulation disorders and bone marrow diseases such as leukemia. Morphology is also a preventive examination. In general, this test is usually ordered if a patient has bleeding that is difficult to control and has bruises for no reason. If your blood platelets are normal when these symptoms are present, this may suggest von Willebrand disease, a bleeding disorder. It delays blood clotting, lengthens the bleeding time, but does not affect platelets, and the so-called "Von Willebrand factor".

The platelet test result should be between 150,000. and 450 thousand platelets in a microliter of blood. The level of thrombocytes below 20 thousand. per microliter of blood is a severely reduced number of platelets in the blood (thrombocytopenia, or thrombocytopenia) which can lead to very heavy bleeding. Their abundance can even be life-threatening. Too low levels of thrombocytes may also be the result of chronic bleeding, e.g. in some cases of stomach ulcers. Cachexia and a large deficiency of platelets can be caused by autoimmune diseases such as lupus or idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura. Somewhat lowered levels of thrombocytes may also occur in some cases:

  • in women before menstruation,
  • under the influence of alcohol,
  • under the influence of antidiabetic drugs,
  • under the influence of chemotherapy,
  • at the end of pregnancy.

An increased number of thrombocytes (thrombocytosis or thrombocytemia) does not necessarily mean you are ill. In others, however, it means a serious illness: myeloproliferative disease, causing too much production of blood cells. Increased number of platelets can also be the result of living at high altitudes or exhausting the body from exercise. Slightly higher levels of thrombocytes have been detected in women taking oestrogens, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or hormone contraception. Having too many platelets can make them more likely to stick together and clot. A clot that clogs a blood vessel can damage it, but at worst also kill it.

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