What is ITP?
Idiopathic (or immune) Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP) is when the immune system mistakenly attacks blood platelets, making them drastically decrease (antibody production against blood platelets). Hence the word thrombocytopenia, which means a reduced number of platelets in the blood. These cells play a crucial role when it comes to bleeding; they help stop it. When blood platelets are low, it can lead to easy and excessive bruising and bleeding. Medications can cause it, infections like chickenpox or AIDS (in my case, due to the dengue virus), immune disorders like arthritis or lupus, pregnancy, low-grade lymphomas, and leukemias, sometimes the cause is unknown. Children recover most of the time quickly, most adults have it chronically. It can be dangerous, as the symptoms can usually be brushed off as other things.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms are different for everyone, and it’s also essential to keep in mind the severity of the disease. The first significant symptom is a platelet count of less than 100 000. The normal count is usually about 150 000 – 450 000. By the time significant bleeding occurs, you may have a platelet count of less than 10 000. The lower the count, the higher the risk of bleeding. Other symptoms include bruising easily (sometimes random, out of nowhere, without hitting a particular body part), spontaneous nosebleeds, bleeding from the gums, blood in urine, blood in the stool, abnormally heavy menstruation and prolonged bleeding from cuts.
On a November morning of 2006, I started developing bruises on my left arm out of nowhere. I was at my grandparents’ house while my parents worked, so they were the first people that noticed. Since I’d been sitting on the floor of their living room and playing with my toys, they figured I must’ve hit my arm on the coffee table or a chair (as I mentioned earlier, the symptoms can easily be caused by other things). They also noticed that I’d been pretty fatigued that day, but again, they thought it’s because I’d been playing the whole morning. Later that evening, my symptoms progressively started to get worse. I’d turned utterly blue out of nowhere, I had purple bruises all over my body, and I began to form random black scabs all over my arms, ears, and thighs.
My parents and grandparents were very concerned, so I was rushed to the hospital from there. It was later confirmed that I had ITP and that my platelet count was about 2000, on the verge of not making it. I got hooked on IV-fluids, and I was treated with a steroid called prednisone, which saved my life. At the time, there were only seven confirmed cases on Aruba. A year earlier, before I got diagnosed with ITP, I was hospitalized with a suspected dengue virus. Doctors think that caused my ITP since most people that recover from dengue stay with long-term impacts of the illness.
After I recovered, I was constantly in and out of the hospital for three years straight. I had to get my blood checked continuously. All was well, though; there were no more signs of ITP. However, since it can come back as a precaution since it can be chronic, my doctor advised me to be extra cautious with certain things. For instance, I can’t hit my head as I am more prone to bleeding now. That means I can’t participate in sports where I’m most likely to injure my head like gymnastics and dodgeball. I also can’t inhale strong chemicals like paint and bug repellent.
The importance of getting your blood checked.
So, ITP is a (most of the time) invisible illness. The symptoms aren’t usually severe until it’s too late. You never know if it can hit you or a loved one. Therefore it’s crucial to get your blood checked now and then not only to watch out for ITP but other illnesses as well. If you notice that you are starting to develop random bruises even though you don’t recall hitting any body parts anywhere, don’t hesitate to get your blood checked. I think we all have found a random bruise on our body though, that’s normal. As an ITP survivor, I still have moments where I freak out over an accidental injury. It’s normal, but it’s not healthy when it happens frequently and in larger amounts. ESPECIALLY when other symptoms accompany it. That’s when you should be worried. So. Get. Your. Blood. Checked.
Anyway, I hope to have informed you over a topic that is usually not discussed, and that doesn’t have that much awareness. I think it’s also important to note that September is ITP awareness month, and the color is purple for platelets!
Kirsten de Cuba