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Immune Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP)

What is ITP?

ITP is when the body makes an antibody that destroys platelets circulating in the blood. Because the platelets are being destroyed, the platelet count in the blood goes down. ITP is not a form of cancer. ITP may have a sudden onset or happen over a period of time.

What causes ITP?

In many cases, the cause of ITP is unknown. Often, the child may have had a virus or viral infection about three weeks before getting ITP. It is important to know that you or anyone else did not do anything to cause your child to get ITP. It is also very important to know that ITP is not contagious no one else can "catch it" from your child.

What are platelets?

Platelets are the type of blood cell that helps the blood to clot when a cut or a bump occurs. These blood cells are all made inside the bones in the bone marrow.

What are signs of low platelet count?

  • Many bruises that you can't explain
  • Nose bleeds or bleeding gums
  • Blood in urine or bowel movement
Your child's doctor will take a blood sample to check the platelet count. The doctor will let you know when your child's platelet count is low and when you will need to be more careful.

What happens when the platelet count is low?

Your child is at risk for bleeding longer if he/she falls, bumps himself/herself, or gets a cut. There is also a risk that bleeding may occur in your child's head without bumping or hitting it. This would be very serious.

How is ITP treated?

There are three possible ways to treat ITP.
  1. Sometimes ITP goes away on its own. Your child’s platelet counts will need to be checked often. This is done by a taking a blood sample. If the platelet count gets very low, medicine may need to be given to decrease the chance of bleeding problems.
  2. Your child may receive a medication called prednisone. Prednisone is a steroid medication. It will help to prevent the destruction of too many platelets. It is given by mouth either as a pill or liquid. If this is the medicine that your doctor decides is best for your child, he/she will give you more information about it.
  3. Other medications used to treat ITP are intravenous immune globulins (IVIG) or WinRho ®.
    • Immune globulins are blood products that are taken from several donors, processed, and tested for infections such as hepatitis or AIDS.
    • These medications are given IV (by vein). A small needle is used to place a catheter (tube) in the vein. Once the catheter is in the vein, the needle is removed.
    • These medications prevent the destruction of too many platelets
    • Your child may be need to stay in the clinic or the inpatient unit after these medications are given to watch for side effects. For example, patients who receive Win Rho®. are watched for at least 8 hours after receiving it.
    • If your doctor decides that an immune globulin is the best treatment for your child, you will be given more information about it.
If your child is being treated with prednisone or, an immune globulin the length of treatment will depend on how fast his/her platelet count increases and stays normal. Again, your child’s doctor will be checking your child's platelet count often and will keep you informed about his/her response to treatment.

When should I call my child's doctor?

  1. If your child complains of a headache (not relieved by a non-aspirin pain reliever such as acetaminophen® (Tylenol®), dizziness, or faints, call your doctor right away. If you are unable to speak with your child's doctor, bring your child to the nearest emergency room right away.
  2. You notice any unusual bruises or bleeding; for example, blood in urine or bowel movement, nosebleeds, or bleeding gums.
  3. Your child falls and hits his head.
  4. Your child has a nosebleed that does not stop after 20-30 minutes.

Other Information and Safety Tips:

  • Be sure to give your child only non-aspirin pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®). Aspirin or Ibuprofen (Motrin®) may cause bleeding and should not be used.
  • If your child has a nosebleed, take these steps to try to stop it:
    1. Place your child in a sitting position
    2. Pinch the front part of nose firmly
    3. Pinch for five minutes without letting go

If you have any more questions about ITP, talk with your child's doctor or nurse.


Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your child's physician. The content provided on this page is for informational purposes only, and was not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your child's physician with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical condition.

Reviewed: 05/2010