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Low Platelet Count: A Guide for Patients

This information describes what platelets are, the precautions you need to take when your platelet count is low, common signs of bleeding, and what you should do if bleeding does occur.

Platelets are cells in your blood that help your blood clot. They are produced in bone marrow, the soft, spongy center in most of the large bones. The main function of platelets is to control bleeding.

A normal platelet count is 150,000 to 400,000 platelets per microliter (mcL) of blood. Your platelet count is measured during a blood test called a complete blood count (CBC).

Precautions to Avoid Bleeding

Cancer and cancer treatments can cause platelet counts to be low. If your doctor has told you that you have a low platelet count, it is very important that you take precautions to prevent bleeding. General precautions are listed in this resource, but it's important to talk with your doctor or nurse about your lifestyle. He or she may recommend other precautions to help keep you safe while your platelet count is low.

Self-care

  • Avoid sharp objects, such as a straightedge razor, scissors, and nail clippers.
  • Do not have:
    • Manicures or pedicures
    • Waxing
    • Electrolysis
    • Tattoos
  • Dental care:
    • Use a soft toothbrush
    • Talk with your doctor before you have any dental work
  • Blow your nose gently, if at all.
  • Do not use rectal suppositories, enemas, or tampons.
  • If you are straining to have bowel movements, talk with your healthcare provider about using stool softeners or laxatives.
  • Do not take your temperature rectally.
  • Do not wear tight clothing.

Activities

  • Wear gloves when gardening, cooking, and doing home repairs.
  • Avoid any activity that may result in injury. This includes:
    • Contact sports
    • Climbing ladders
    • Strenuous exercise
    • Bicycling
    • Weight lifting
  • During sexual activity:
    • Use lubrication, if needed
    • Avoid anal intercourse
    • Avoid strong thrusting

Medications

Signs of Bleeding

Call your doctor if you develop any signs of bleeding, such as:

  • Excessive bruising
  • A faint red rash on your torso, arms, and/or legs
  • Vaginal spotting or heavy menstrual bleeding
  • The appearance of broken blood vessels in the white of your eye (sclera)

If bleeding occurs at home, take the following steps:

  1. Apply direct pressure on the bleeding site.
  2. After applying pressure, call your MSKCC doctor. If you are unable to reach your doctor and you cannot control the bleeding, go to your local emergency room.
  3. If you have a nosebleed, apply ice and pressure over the bridge of your nose.

Call your doctor immediately if you have:

  • Black bowel movements, blood in your stool, or bleeding from your rectum
  • Blood in your urine
  • Headaches that do not get better
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness
  • Any bleeding that does not get better (e.g., coughing up blood, vomiting blood, nose bleeds)