Essential Thrombocythaemia


What is it?

Essential thrombocythaemia is a condition where the body makes too many platelets. Platelets help to make the blood clot, without them if we cut ourselves we would not stop bleeding. In essential thrombocythaemia as well as too many platelets being made, they may not work properly.


What causes it?

There are many reasons for the body to make too many platelets. The most common reason for platelet counts to rise is during an infection. However, in essential thrombocythaemia platelets are persistently raised as too many are produced and there is no other reason for the platelet count to be high.


Who gets it?

It is most commonly diagnosed around the age of 60. The cause of the disease is unknown.


What are the symptoms?

Most patients do not have any symptoms and the problem is picked up on a blood test being performed for another reason.
When patients do get symptoms these can include any of the following; headaches, dizziness and rashes. As the platelets may not work properly, the blood may not clot well which can cause bleeding. As there are too many cells in the blood it may become too thick, this can cause blood clots to form and result in a strokeA stroke is caused by the interuption of blood supply to a region of the brain which leads to this region being unable to function. or deep vein thrombosisA deep vein thrombosis or DVT is clot in one of the veins of the legs (or rarely in the arms). It is important to recognise and treat a DVT to prevent it from spreading to the lungs or elsewhere..


How is it diagnosed?

Usually blood tests and looking at blood cells under the microscope is enough to make the diagnosis. However when the diagnosis is not clear a bone marrow biopsy may be required to gain further information and rule out other diagnoses.


How is it treated?

Treatment varies depending on age and health of the patient. Some patients need no active treatment, but all should be encouraged to stop smoking if applicable. Others need aspirin and sometimes hydroxycarbamide to lower the risk of suffering a blood clot.


Further information

Essential Thrombocythaemia at PubMed Health (US National library of medicine)



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Written by: Dr T Rider

Editor: Dr J Newman

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