Thrombocytopenia – or low platelet count – is not uncommon, affecting about 8% of pregnancies. The majority of these cases are mild, and don’t pose any problems to the woman or her baby.
When diagnosed in pregnancy, the condition is called gestational thrombocytopenia. However, some women may have chronic cases of thrombocytopenia, that went undiscovered until their routine prenatal blood tests.
What Does it Mean to Have Gestational Thrombocytopenia?
Platelets are blood cells that aid in clotting. Doctors measure platelets by the count per microliter of blood.
- Normal platelet count:150,000-400,000/microliter.
- Mild thrombocytopenia: 100,000-150,000/microliter.
Pregnant women tend to have higher rates of thrombocytopenia, but researchers aren’t really sure why that is. 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 go on blood thinners to treat other, 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 poses serious risks for pregnancy complications. For one, delivery becomes much more dangerous, since the mother’s 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. These complications are rare, but they are life-threatening.
Gestational Thrombocytopenia Treatments
Most mild cases of thrombocytopenia can be monitored without treatment. In all likelihood, the condition will disappear and no longer affect you or your baby after birth.
Severe cases might require some invasive forms treatment. The goal is 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