Image is from Global ITP Awareness Toolkit
Many health conditions affect the daily lives of both people in the United States, and also people around the world. Some conditions are better known such as breast cancer and HIV, while other conditions may not have as much awareness. Blood disorders often fall into this category, as many people are unaware of the serious consequences these cause in patients’ lives.
ITP is one such disorder that often leaves sufferers and families feeling invisible since little is known to the general public and lack of knowledge can even be evident in many medical practices. A lack of visibility makes it difficult for this disease to obtain research funding and limits the treatments available. For this reason, ITP Awareness Month takes on additional importance, bringing public awareness and assets to a lesser known illness.
Understanding How Blood Works
In order to understand how ITP affects people, it is important to first understand how blood works. Blood is made of two primary parts: cells and plasma. The plasma is the liquid, consisting of multiple substances like fats and protein, but is primarily water. The cells are the working pieces, made up of red cells, white cells, and platelets. Red cells carry oxygen while white cells fight infection. Platelets are very tiny cells that work to stop bleeding. If a single part of your blood does not function correctly, it can have an effect on the entire system.
How ITP Affects Platelets
ITP stands for Immune Thrombocytopenia. Implied by the name, ITP is an immune disorder. As with better known immune disorders, this illness causes the body’s immune system to attack healthy cells. In the case of ITP, the healthy cells that are attacked are the body’s platelets. Since platelets are a vital part of clotting, problems with these cells can trigger a range of complications.
People with ITP are prone to bruises and purple spots on the skin. Signs of spontaneous bleeding, most skin conditions are mild. Many ITP patients complain of general fatigue and sometimes depression. More serious problems occur when low platelet counts begin to affect the digestive system, gastrointestinal system, or worse, the brain. Spontaneous hemorrhage caused be platelet deficiency in these areas can lead to serious complications including organ failure and even death.
Platelet counts offer a method to monitor, but not treat ITP. Normal counts should range from 150,000 to 400,000 per microliter of blood. ITP patients often have counts closer to 30,000, with a count of 10,000 indicating a serious condition and risk of catastrophic bleed. There is no known cure for ITP, but there are some treatments that have been shown to help treat symptoms and reduce the risk of fatalities.
The Mayo treatment describes the following therapies for ITP.
- Immune globulin injections that increase blood count.
- Steroid drugs that suppress the immune system as well as non-steroid immune suppressants.
- Drugs that boost platelet production.
Severe cases of ITP that do not respond well to the above therapies may require additional treatment such as the surgical removal of the spleen or stronger experimental drugs with harsher side effects.
ITP Awareness Day
By promoting ITP awareness you can do your part to help improve treatments, funding and overall quality of life for those who suffer from ITP. The Platelet Disorder Support Association offers materials and media kits available online.