What Is It?
Immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP), also known by the shorter name Immune Thrombocytopenia (same abbreviation ITP), can be understood by looking at the three terms that make up its name:
In short, ITP is an illness in which unusually low levels of platelets lead to purpura and other forms of abnormal bleeding.
In people with ITP, the immune system produces abnormal proteins called antiplatelet antibodies. These misdirected proteins attach themselves to the surface of blood platelets as if the platelets were "foreign" or invading bacteria or viruses. As the affected platelets circulate in the bloodstream, they are recognized as abnormal by the spleen and removed from the blood.
As more and more platelets are removed by the spleen, the level of platelets in the blood drops past the lower limit of normal (about 130,000 per cubic millimeter of blood) and the patient is diagnosed with thrombocytopenia (low platelet count).
When platelet levels fall into the 30,000 to 50,000 range, a person may begin to have abnormal bleeding after a minor skin injury, such as a small cut, bruise, medical injection, blood test or tooth extraction. If platelet levels fall below 10,000, the person has an increased risk of bleeding even when no injury has occurred. This type of bleeding is especially dangerous if it happens inside the skull and brain, where it is known as an intracranial hemorrhage.
There are currently three classifications of ITP:
In most cases, the cause of ITP is unknown. In a few cases, ITP can be a reaction to a specific drug or food ingredient, such as quinine in tonic water. In the United States, ITP is a relatively rare illness that affects about four out of every 100,000 people each year.
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