Sepsis is potentially life threatening organ dysfunction due to an extreme immune response to infection. Thrombocytopenia is when a person’s platelet count is extremely low. In some cases, sepsis can cause thrombocytopenia.
According to data from 2009–2014, sepsis is responsible for roughly
This article reviews the connection between sepsis and thrombocytopenia. It also explores their symptoms, treatment, and when to contact a doctor.
Sepsis occurs when an infection triggers a chain reaction in the body that leads to an extreme immune response. Without prompt treatment, it can cause tissue damage and organ failure. This can be fatal.
Thrombocytopenia is a relatively common occurrence in people with sepsis, occurring in around
Platelet counts are also part of the Sepsis-related Organ Failure Assessment (SOFA) score. Doctors use SOFA scores to assess the severity of organ dysfunction in people who are critically ill.
The inclusion of platelet counts in SOFA scores may be due to the increased risk of mortality associated with thrombocytopenia and because the condition may indicate severe sepsis.
- endothelial dysfunction, a type of nonobstructive coronary artery disease where the large blood vessels on the heart’s surface narrow instead of widen
- coagulopathy, a blood disorder that impairs the body’s ability to make blood clots
- altered thrombopoiesis, which are irregularities in how the body makes platelets
- hemodilution, a procedure healthcare professionals use to help maintain a proper blood volume without a transfusion
Other possible causes
Other causes of thrombocytopenia in sepsis may include:
- a history of liver or spleen disease
- blood cancer
- myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are rare bone marrow disorders that affect the blood
- interaction between platelet receptors
- complications from an enlarged spleen
- immune-associated thrombocytopenia
- pseudothrombocytopenia (PTCP)
PTCP typically results from laboratory collection errors following contact with ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid, a coating in tubes for blood tests. It can cause platelets to clump together, potentially resulting in false low platelet counts.
A person with thrombocytopenia may not show any signs or symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they may
- petechiae, which are small, flat red spots under the skin that occur due to blood leaking from blood vessels
- purpura, which is bleeding under the skin that can cause purple, red, or brownish-yellow spots
- blood in the urine or stool
- prolonged bleeding, even from a small wound
- nosebleeds or bleeding from the gums
- heavy menstrual bleeding
Sepsis can cause additional symptoms to appear. These
Healthcare professionals will aim to help increase a person’s platelet count and treat sepsis. Treatments for thrombocytopenia
- medications such as eltrombopag and romiplostim, which help the body make more platelets
- blood or platelet transfusions
- splenectomy, which involves surgical removal of the spleen
A person should seek medical attention immediately by calling 911 if they show signs of sepsis,
- extreme pain
- shortness of breath
People with a higher risk of developing sepsis include:
- those who have had sepsis in the past
- those younger than 1 year old
- people with weakened immune systems
- people who have experienced recent severe illness or hospitalization
- adults aged 65 or older
- people with chronic medical conditions, such as cancer, lung disease, kidney disease, and diabetes
It is also best to contact a healthcare professional as soon as possible about any symptoms of thrombocytopenia.
In some cases, sepsis may cause thrombocytopenia. Additionally, research suggests thrombocytopenia may worsen the severity and mortality rate of sepsis. Several factors related to sepsis may cause thrombocytopenia to occur.
Doctors aim to treat thrombocytopenia by increasing a person’s platelet count with medications, blood transfusions, or surgery. They typically treat sepsis by administering medications, such as antibiotics, to help fight the infection that caused it. They also try to maintain blood flow to the organs.
A person should call 911 immediately if they develop any signs or symptoms of sepsis, such as confusion or extreme pain.