Skip to main content

What is Immune Thrombocytopenia (ITP)?

Immune Thrombocytopenia, formerly called Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP), is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks its own platelets – small cells in the blood that help to build a clot to stop bleeding. People with ITP often experience purple bruises and red or purple skin discolorations, as well as nosebleeds, bleeding of the gums, heavy menstrual bleeding, and hematomas.

There are two main types of ITP: primary ITP and secondary ITP. Primary ITP is the most common form, which occurs when platelets are being attacked by a person’s immune system. Secondary ITP is linked to underlying health conditions such as autoimmune diseases or blood cancers. Cases of ITP can be further classified based on how long the condition lasts. Acute ITP tends to be most common in children and lasts for up to six months, typically after a viral illness like chicken pox. Chronic ITP is more common in adults and typically lasts longer than six months. Chronic ITP may be recurrent.

Symptoms of ITP

Common symptoms of ITP include:

  • Easy bruising, sometimes occurring at joints caused by ordinary movements
  • Nosebleeds
  • Small red dots under the skin, caused by blood vessels breaking beneath the skin. Sometimes these dots can connect and create what looks like a rash
  • Bleeding of the gums
  • Heavy menstrual bleeding
  • Blood in bodily waste

Causes of ITP
It’s not always clear what causes ITP, but ITP has been known to be linked to:

  • Viral illnesses such as Hepatitis C, HIV, and chicken pox
  • Pregnancy
  • Lymphoma
  • Leukemia
  • Immune system disorders
  • Effects of medications

Treatment for ITP

In some situations, ITP can clear up on its own without the need of additional treatment. This is often the case for children with ITP. However, if treatment is needed, some common treatments include:

  • Intravenous gamma globulin (IVG)
  • Corticosteroids
  • Rh immune globulin
  • Splenectomy
  • Treatment of underlying infections
  • Medications to support platelet production
  • Platelet transfusion