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Immune thrombocytopenia (ITP)


What is ITP?

Immune thrombocytopenia (ih-MEWN thrum-bah-sy-tah-PEE-nee-ah) is a disease of the immune system that causes low platelet counts. The job of the immune system is to attack germs that are not supposed to be in your body. In ITP, the immune system attacks the platelets by mistake and causes them to be destroyed in the spleen. This causes low platelet counts.

What are platelets and what do they do?

Platelets are cells in the blood that help to form blood clots. When we have an injury, platelets form clots to help heal the wounds and keep us from bleeding too much. In ITP, there are not enough platelets so it is hard to form a clot. A normal platelet count is between 150,000/mm3 and 400,000/mm3.

What causes ITP?

The cause of ITP is unknown. Some children may have a fever or infection a few days or weeks before developing ITP. ITP is not contagious.

What are symptoms of ITP?

People with ITP get bruises often and can bleed for a long time when cut. They often have small red spots on their skin called petechiae (pa-TEE-kee-eye). This looks like a rash. ITP can cause bleeding in the mouth, heavy periods, or blood in the urine or stool.

Will my child recover?

Most children only have low platelets for a few months, while a few children will have low platelet counts for several years. 

What are the treatments for ITP?

ITP will often go away without treatment. However, if your child has bleeding symptoms, there are medicines that your doctor may give to increase your child’s platelet count enough to stop the bleeding. Your doctor may want to check your child’s platelet counts often until they go back to normal. 

What should my child avoid?

Having ITP should not stop your child from having fun; however, you should talk to your doctor about any activity that might harm your child and before taking part in any sports. If your child’s platelets are low, he should avoid contact sports like football, rugby, lacrosse, and high risk activities like diving, skateboarding, climbing to high places, or "rough-housing." These and other activities could cause injury to the head. Activities like running and swimming are usually fine, as they are less likely to cause injury. For approved activities, be sure to have your child wear the recommended safety equipment such as a helmet, kneepads, elbow pads, and wrist pads for sports or other physical activities.

They should always wear seatbelts when riding in any moving vehicle. Do not give your child aspirin or ibuprofen (Motrin®, Advil®), since these medicines can prevent platelets from working properly.

When do I call a doctor?

Call the doctor or take your child to an emergency room right away if he hits his head or has a serious accident. In general, look for bruises or petechiae on the skin or in the mouth, gums that bleed easily, nosebleeds, or blood in the urine or stool. If your child has any of these symptoms, tell the doctor as soon as you can because it could mean that your child’s platelets are low. 


If you have questions, talk to your child’s doctor or nurse. To learn more about ITP and what to do if your child has a bleed, call the Hematology Clinic at 901-595-5041. If you have an urgent need and cannot reach the Hematology Clinic because it is afterhours or a holiday, call the main St. Jude number 901-595-3300 and ask to speak to the hematologist on call. If you are outside Memphis, dial toll-free 1-866-2STJUDE (1-866-278-5833).


This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.

St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

ATTENTION: If you speak another language, assistance services, free of charge, are available to you. Call 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).

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