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 fragments of cells in your blood that help your blood clot. They are made 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

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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, 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. If you have a nosebleed, apply ice and pressure over the bridge of your nose.

  2. After applying pressure, call your Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) doctor. If you are unable to reach your doctor and you cannot control the bleeding, go to your local emergency room.

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)
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Treatment

If your platelet count is 10,000 mcL or less, you may need to have a transfusion of platelets. You may also need to have a transfusion if your platelet count is higher than 10,000 mcL but you are having significant bleeding, invasive procedures, or have signs of other disorders. Your doctor will speak with you about this.

If you are having vaginal bleeding with your monthly period, you may need to start hormonal therapy with birth control pills to prevent your next period.

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If you have any questions or concerns, talk with a member of your healthcare team. You can reach them Monday through Friday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm at ____________________. After 5:00 pm, during the weekend, and on holidays, please call____________________. If there’s no number listed, or you’re not sure, call 212-639-2000.
Low Platelet Count: A Guide for Patients
©2015 Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center - Generated on September 3, 2015