Low platelets during pregnancy- Should I be worried?

Low platelet count during pregnancy

Platelets are cells that help your blood to clot when it needs to. If your platelet count drops below normal levels during pregnancy, this will result in a common pregnancy condition called gestational thrombocytopenia. This condition affects about one pregnant woman in 10 and usually develops in mid to late pregnancy. Gestational thrombocytopenia can be diagnosed, usually by a routine blood test at one of your antenatal appointments.

If your platelet count is slightly below normal, it should not affect you and your baby and you will most probably not need any treatment. Your obstetrician will continue to monitor your platelet count throughout the rest of your pregnancy, in case it drops any further. Your platelet levels will be back to normal after the birth of your baby.

Though doctors are not sure why gestational thrombocytopenia happens, but these two factors may play an important part:

  • Body has a mechanism of naturally destroying platelets if not in use, and then replacing them with new ones. Pregnancy speeds up this process, resulting in fewer, but younger and larger, platelets in your blood.
  • Body makes more of liquid part of blood (plasma) during pregnancy which means that the platelets are more diluted. Hence, resulting in fewer number of platelets per millilitre of blood. This doesn’t affect the working of platelets, though.

If your platelet count falls below 100 million per ml of blood, extra tests should be offered. Your doctor will categorise this as moderate gestational thrombocytopenia. When the count is below 50 million per ml of blood, your doctor will class it as severe thrombocytopenia. Moderate or severe thrombocytopenia, is more likely to be caused by a condition you already have, such as lupus. This is when your immune system attacks healthy cells. 

In very rare case, some mums-to-be already have a non-pregnancy-related type of thrombocytopenia, called immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP). Symptoms of this condition are purple spots on the skin and bruising, caused by spontaneous bleeding.
Some medicines, such as the blood-thinning drug heparin, can also affect your platelet count. 

If any of the above mentioned cases apply to you, your doctor will already know about it, and will plan your antenatal and postnatal care keeping this in mind.

If you develop moderate to severe gestational thrombocytopenia during pregnancy, your doctor will recommend having treatment during your pregnancy to stabilise the condition and to keep your baby safe. 

Sometimes, a very low platelet count could be a sign of a pregnancy complication. This could be a rare complication of preeclampsia in late pregnancy, called HELLP syndrome, which also causes the following symptoms:

  • severe headache
  • nausea
  • high blood pressure and protein in your urine (preeclampsia symptoms)
  • pain when inhaling deeply
  • sudden increase in swelling of the feet, ankles, hands and face

If you are experiencing these symptoms, call your doctor straight away.

Have a safe pregnancy and for all pregnancy related information download Pregnancy Health, Diet and Fitness by Ango!