Thrombocythemia (also thrombocytosis) is the presence of high platelet (thrombocyte) counts in the blood, and can be either primary (also termed essential thrombocythemia, and caused by a myeloproliferative disease) or secondary (also termed reactive). Although often symptomless (particularly when it is a secondary reaction), it can predispose to thrombosis in some patients. Thrombocytosis can be contrasted with thrombocytopenia, a loss of platelets in the blood.
In a healthy individual, a normal platelet count ranges from 150,000 and 450,000 per mm³ (or microlitre) (150–450 x 109/L). These limits, however, are determined by the 2.5th lower and upper percentile, and a deviation does not necessary imply any form of disease. Nevertheless, counts over 750,000 (and especially over a million) are considered serious enough to warrant investigation and intervention.
Signs and symptoms
High platelet levels do not necessarily signal any clinical problems, and are picked up on a routine full blood count. However, it is important that a full medical history be elicited to ensure that the increased platelet count is not due to a secondary process. Often, it occurs in tandem with an inflammatory disease, as the principal stimulants of platelet production (e.g. thrombopoietin) are elevated in these clinical states as part of the acute phase reaction.
Scientific literature sometimes excludes thrombocytosis from the scope of thrombophilia by definition, but practically, by the definition of thrombophilia as an increased predisposition to thrombosis, thrombocytosis (especially primary thrombocytosis) is a potential cause of thrombophilia. Conversely, secondary thrombocytosis very rarely causes thrombotic complications.
Reactive thrombocythemia is the common cause of high platelet count. It accounts for 88% to 97% of thrombocythemia cases in adults, and 100% in children. In adults, acute infection, tissue damage, chronic inflammation and malignancy are the common causes of reactive thrombocythemia. Usually, one or more of these conditions is present in more than 75% of the cases with reactive thrombocythemia. Causes for reactive thrombocytopenia in children are similar to adults. In addition to that, haemolytic anemia and thalassemia are often present in children living in the middle eastern countries. Other causes of reactive thrombocythemia includes: post surgery, iron deficiency, drugs, and rebound effect after bone marrow suppression.
Once the reactive causes of thrombocythemia are ruled out, clonal thrombocythemia should be considered. The most common cause of clonal thrombocythemia is myeloproliferative disease. These includes: essential thrombocythemia, chronic myelogenous leukemia, polycythemia vera, and primary myelofibrosis.
Extremely rare causes of thrombocythemia are spurious causes. This is due to the presence of structures resembling platelets in the blood such as needle-like cryoglobulin crystals, cytoplasmic fragments of circulating leukemic cells, bacteria, and red blood cell microvesicles. These structures are counted as platelets by the automated machine counter; therefore, causing the platelet number to be falsely elevated. However, such error can be avoided by doing a peripheral blood smear.
Often, no treatment is required or necessary for reactive thrombocytosis. In cases of reactive thrombocytosis of more than 1,000x109/L, it may be considered to administer daily low dose aspirin (such as 65 mg) to minimize the risk of stroke or thrombosis.
However, in essential thrombocythemia, if platelet counts are over 750,000 or 1,000,000, and especially if there are other risk factors for thrombosis, treatment may be needed. Selective use of aspirin at low doses is thought to be protective. Extremely high platelet counts can be treated with hydroxyurea (a cytoreducing agent) or anagrelide (Agrylin).
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