What are platelets?
Platelets are a part of your blood that are most often found in the plasma. Platelets work to help make blood clot and stop bleeding. They are made in the bone marrow. A platelet lives for 7-10 days and then is either used to make a clot or is destroyed by your body.
A normal platelet count is about 150,000 to 400,000 per microliter. Your platelet count can be checked by drawing blood for a complete blood count. A complete blood count measures the levels of the components that make up your blood.
What causes a low platelet count?
A low platelet count can be caused by cancer itself or the treatments you are getting. For example, leukemia starts in the bone marrow and can interfere with normal blood cell production, which can lead to a low platelet count. Chemotherapy and radiation can affect not just cancer cells, but also healthy cells. Because of this, both treatments can lead to low platelet counts.
If your platelet count is low, you may have nosebleeds, bleeding gums or other abnormal bleeding or you may bruise easily.
Who needs a platelet transfusion?
You may be given platelets from a donor to prevent bleeding if your count is well below normal, typically below 10-15 thousand. If you are having surgery, a procedure, or are actively bleeding, platelets may be given even if the count is not that low.
How is a platelet transfusion given?
Platelets are given through an intravenous (IV) line. The infusion is given over 15-30 minutes. Your vital signs (temperature, heart rate, oxygenation and blood pressure) may be checked before and after the infusion.
What are the risks of having a platelet transfusion?
Although not common, there are risks to having a platelet transfusion. These can include infection and reactions. If you start to not feel well during the transfusion, contact your nurse. Symptoms of a reaction can include itching, chills and rash.
Platelets are collected from donors. All donated blood is tested for viruses and bacteria. The risk of catching a virus or other infection from a blood transfusion is very low. This includes HIV and Hepatitis B and C.
American Cancer Society. Blood Transfusions for People with Cancer. 2016. Found at: https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/treatment-types/blood-transfusion-and-donation/what-are-transfusions.html
Cancer.Net. Low Platelet Count or Thrombocytopenia. 2020. Found at: https://www.cancer.net/coping-with-cancer/physical-emotional-and-social-effects-cancer/managing-physical-side-effects/low-platelet-count-or-thrombocytopenia