Thrombocytopenia – or low platelet count – is a fairly common occurrence in pregnant women, affecting about 8% of pregnancies. The majority of these cases are mild and don’t pose any problems to the woman or her baby.
Thrombocytopenia diagnosed in pregnancy is called “gestational thrombocytopenia.” However, some women may have chronic cases of thrombocytopenia that were unknown until they had routine prenatal blood tests.
What does it mean to have Gestational Thrombocytopenia?
Platelets are cells that aid in blood clotting. Between 150 and 400 million platelets per milliliter of blood is considered normal for most people. A platelet count between 100 and 150 million/L indicates a mild case of thrombocytopenia.
Why do pregnant women have higher rates of thrombocytopenia? We’re not really sure. We know that a low platelet count results from the body’s tendency to use up or destroy platelets faster than it can produce them. It appears that pregnancy speeds up the blood’s natural renewal processes, but it’s not clear why this happens.
Additionally, some pregnant women are put on blood thinners to treat more serious conditions. This type of therapy can affect your blood count. If you are being treated with blood thinners, your doctor will keep this in mind during your prenatal visits and will talk you through managing your health.
The good news is that typically, cases of gestational thrombocytopenia will disappear after delivery.
Severe Low Platelet Count During Pregnancy
A very low platelet count might pose serious risks of complications for pregnant women. A severely low platelet count makes delivery much more dangerous since the blood will have more difficulty clotting.
Severe thrombocytopenia increases a pregnant woman’s risk of heavy bleeding (hemorrhaging) during or after birth. It makes invasive medical procedures, like inserting an epidural or performing a Cesarean delivery, riskier.
Sometimes, a severe case of thrombocytopenia is a symptom of a more serious underlying condition, such as lupus (an autoimmune disease) or HELLP (Hemolysis, Elevated Liver enzymes, and Low Platelet count) syndrome, which is a rare but life-threatening complication of preeclampsia.
Gestational Thrombocytopenia Treatment
Mild cases of thrombocytopenia likely won’t require any treatment, and will no longer affect you or your baby after the pregnancy.
Severe cases might require invasive treatment to increase your platelet count and stabilize your condition to withstand the stress and trauma of delivery. Some treatments might include:
- Prescription (oral) steroids
- Intravenous immunoglobulin therapy – administration of immune globulin from donated plasma
- Platelet transfusion
- Plasma transfusion