Feature image from JCWILSON Archive
Platelets. We have heard that word a thousand times. We know what they are and we know what they do. Right? Platelets are just those tiny little things that float around in your blood that magically ‘plug up’ leaks when you need them. Wrong. Here’s the whole story, about how platelets are made, what they actually do and how they go about doing it.
What is a Normal platelet count?
A ‘Normal’ platelet count has a very wide range. Anywhere between 150 and 450 billion platelets per litre of blood is considered normal. Men and women often differ slightly in ‘normal’ ranges, but not consistently enough for it to be documented. Any higher than 450 billion platelets and you are in trouble. Any lower than 150 billion platelets and you have a very different set of problems.
Where do platelets come from?
Platelets are created by a larger cell in the body called a Megakarycytes. Pictured. No, I have never said that word out aloud. Megakaryocytes are created from steam cells in the bone marrow.
As a MEGAKARYOCYTES matures it begins to fragment into platelets that are released into the blood. This fragmentation of the megakaryocytes is very important because it is triggered by the hormone THROMBOPOIETIN.
The hormone, thrombopoietin, is secreted by the kidneys and liver. The kidneys and liver are crucial in the life cycle of a platelet. Liver failure can cause thrombocytopenia, for without the liver producing this hormone, the megakaryocytes don’t fragment into platelets.
These small young platelets survive in the blood stream from between 7 to 10 days. Platelets circulate the blood steam before being stored in the spleen for about 36 hours. When the body is injured it goes into repair mode, the spleen contracts and releases the platelets back into the blood stream to head off and save the day. These platelets become ‘activated’.
What do Activated Platelets do?
When a platelet is activated, it grows little sticky arms that adhere to each other and the injury site. I have often wondered how a platelet becomes ACTIVATED. One way that a platelet becomes activated is that is responses to the presence of collagen. Collagen is found in almost every part of the body accept the blood vessels. Which means that for a platelet to come into contact with collagen, the blood vessel must be broken in some way.
When platelets are young, they absorb seretonin into their plasma. Seretonin is a vasodilator. This hormone remains in the plasma of the platelet until the platelets are activated at the onset of an injury. Once the activated platelet releases the seretonin from it’s plasma – the blood vessels around the injury dilate.
Old platelets, more than 10 days old which are never activated are removed from the body through the liver. And the liver secretes more thrombopoietin to trigger the megakaryocytes to fragment into more platelets. The life cycle is complete.
What does a low platelet count feel like?
One cannot always feel a low platelet count. A lot of the time a patient may never feel anything. However a patient with a bleeding disorder will certainly feel the symptoms of a low platelet count.
Most people can guess at the most common symptoms of a low platelet count, you bruise easily and you bleed a lot. You also may have frequent nose bleeds, PETACHE rash or bleeding gums. These symptoms are grose. They may also hurt and cause discomfort and pain. You may feel embarrassed because your bleeding disorder is hard to hide.
Lesser known symptoms of a low platelet count is pain in your joints. This can make you fee weaker, unable to recover, and more likely to stop partaking in physical exercise. Redness or blood in the corner of your eyes and dark circles like bruises under your eyes may also cause embarrassment, and loss of self confidence. How many times have people told you ‘You look tired!’
Did you know that headaches are also a symptom of low platelets? Yikes! Having a low platelet count can make you feel fragile, or weaker then you once were. It might make you feel different, at the changes it has caused in your life.
Then again, you might not feel any different. As your immune system kills off platelets in your blood stream, the platelets that you do have are often the young ones, that function the best. Some people don’t feel a low platelet count at all.
Taking care of the whole Platelet System
To properly take care of your platelets, you need to make sure you are taking care of your bones, your kidney’s, your liver and your spleen (if you still have one) Drink plenty of water to help your liver and kidney’s function. Make sure you are getting enough CALCIUM and VITAMIN D for your bones. Ensure you do as much exercise as you can, to ensure you’re fit and healthy and your lymphatic system is moving that Lymph around your body.