Is Primary Thrombocythemia?
Primary thrombocythemia, also
known as essential thrombocythemia, is a rare blood clotting disorder that
causes bone marrow to produce too many platelets. Bone marrow is the
sponge-like tissue inside your bones. It contains cells that produce red blood
cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Red blood cells carry oxygen and
nutrients, white blood cells help fight infections, and platelets enable blood
A high platelet count can cause
blood clots to develop spontaneously. Normally, your blood begins to clot to
prevent a massive loss of blood after an injury. In people with primary
thrombocythemia, however, blood clots can form suddenly and for no apparent
reason. Abnormal blood clotting can be dangerous, as blood clots may block the
flow of blood to the brain, liver, heart, and other vital organs.
People with primary
thrombocythemia may experience dizziness, headaches, or numbness in the upper
and lower body. They are also at risk for serious complications, such as a
stroke or heart attack.
Primary thrombocythemia is most
common among women and people over age 50. However, the condition can also
affect younger people. The diagnosis is usually made after a physical
examination and a series of blood tests.
Although there’s no cure for
primary thrombocythemia, there are treatments than can help relieve symptoms. Treatment
varies from person to person. Smokers and people with a history of blood clots
may need medications to reduce their platelet count, while others may not need
Causes Primary Thrombocythemia?
Primary thrombocythemia occurs
when your body produces too many platelets, which can lead to abnormal
clotting. However, the exact cause for this is unknown. According to the Mayo
Clinic, approximately 80 percent of people with primary thrombocythemia have a gene mutation in the
Janus kinase 2 (JAK2) gene. This gene is responsible for making a protein that
promotes the growth and division of cells.
When your platelet count is too
high due to a specific disease or condition, it is called secondary or reactive
thrombocytosis. Primary thrombocythemia is less common than secondary
thrombocytosis. Another form of thrombocythemia, inherited thrombocythemia, is
Are the Symptoms of Primary Thrombocythemia?
Primary thrombocythemia usually
doesn’t cause symptoms. A blood clot may be the first sign that something is
wrong. Blood clots can develop anywhere in your body, but they’re more likely
to form in your feet, hands, or brain. The symptoms of a blood clot can vary depending
on where the clot is located, but symptoms generally include:
- numbness or tingling
in your feet or hands
throbbing, and burning pain in your feet or hands
- changes in
- chest pain
- a slightly
In rare cases, the condition can
cause bleeding, which may occur in the form of:
from your gums or mouth
- bloody urine
- bloody stool
Are the Complications of Primary Thrombocythemia?
Women who have primary
thrombocythemia and also take birth control pills have a higher risk of blood
clots. The condition is also particularly dangerous for women who are pregnant.
A blood clot located in the placenta can lead to problems with fetal
development, or miscarriage.
A blood clot can cause a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or a stroke. Symptoms of stroke include:
- weakness or
numbness in the arm, leg, or face
- shortness of
People with primary
thrombocythemia are also at risk for heart attack, as blood clots may block the
flow of blood to the heart. Symptoms of a heart attack include:
- clammy skin
pain in the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes
- shortness of
- pain that
extends to your shoulder, arm, back, or jaw
your doctor or go to the hospital immediately if you have symptoms of a blood
clot, heart attack, or stroke. These conditions are considered medical
emergencies and require immediate treatment.
Is Primary Thrombocythemia Diagnosed?
Your doctor will first perform a physical
examination and ask you about your medical history. Make sure to mention any
blood transfusions, infections, and medical procedures you’ve had in the past.
You should also tell your doctor about any prescription and over-the-counter
medications and supplements you’re taking.
If primary thrombocythemia is
suspected, your doctor will run certain blood tests to confirm the diagnosis. Blood
tests may include:
- a complete blood count (CBC)
to measure the number of platelets in your blood
- a blood smear to examine the condition of your platelets
testing to determine whether you have an inherited condition that causes a high
Other diagnostic testing may
include bone marrow aspiration to examine your platelets under a
microscope. This procedure involves taking a sample of bone marrow tissue in
liquid form. It’s typically extracted from the breastbone or pelvis.
You will most likely be diagnosed
with primary thrombocythemia if your doctor can’t find a cause for your high
Is Primary Thrombocythemia Treated?
Your treatment plan will depend
on a number of factors, including your risk of developing blood clots.
You may not need treatment if you
don’t have any symptoms or additional risk factors. Instead, your doctor may
choose to carefully monitor your condition. Treatment may be recommended if
- are over age
- are a smoker
- have other
medical conditions, such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease
- have a
history of bleeding or blood clots
Treatment may include:
low-dose aspirin to reduce blood clotting
medications to lower the risk of clotting or to reduce platelet production in
the bone marrow
pheresis, which is a procedure to remove platelets directly from the blood
Is the Long-Term Outlook for People with Primary Thrombocythemia?
Your outlook depends on a variety
of factors. Most people don’t experience any complications for a long time.
However, serious complications can occur, including:
- heavy bleeding
- heart attack
complications, such as high blood pressure (preeclampsia), premature delivery,
Bleeding issues are rare, but may
lead to complications, such as:
leukemia, which is a type of blood cancer
which is a progressive bone marrow disorder
with Primary Thrombocythemia
There’s no known way to prevent
primary thrombocythemia. However, if you’ve recently been diagnosed with
primary thrombocythemia, there are some things you can do to lower your risk of
serious complications. The first step is managing any risk factors for blood
clots. Controlling your blood pressure, cholesterol, and conditions such as diabetes can help reduce the risk of blood clots. You
can do this by exercising regularly and eating a diet that largely consists of
fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. It’s also important to quit
smoking, as smoking increases your risk of blood clots.
Other behaviors that reduce risk
for serious complications include:
- taking all
medications as prescribed
over-the-counter pain or cold medications that increase the risk of bleeding
contact sports or activities that increase the risk of bleeding
reporting abnormal bleeding or symptoms of blood clots to your doctor
Before any dental or surgical
procedures, make sure to tell your dentist or doctor about any medications you
may be taking to lower your platelet count.