September is ITP Awareness Month, an opportunity for aging parents and other seniors to learn about a blood disorder that can strike at any age — and about which many people are totally ignorant. Aging parents, spouses, and others can learn about ITP during this month so that they can recognize signs if the disorder ever comes there way.
What is ITP?
ITP stands for immune (or sometimes idiopathic) thrombocytopenic purpura. As the ITP Foundation states on its website, it is “a rare bleeding disorder characterized by a low amount of platelets in the blood.” Platelets are the component of blood which enables blood to clot effectively. With ITP, the lack of a sufficient number of platelets can cause spontaneous bruising or bleeding.
ITP is an autoimmune disorder, which means that a person’s own body “misrecognizes” platelets as something foreign and dangerous, and so orders the immune system to attack and destroy them. Sometimes this autoimmune reaction occurs for causes unknown; at other times, it occurs due to infections or the presence of an autoimmune disorder or in response to some medications.
Anyone can get ITP at any age; however, women are much more likely than men to contract ITP. An estimated 120,000 people in the United States have ITP.
Symptoms and Treatment
The most common signs of ITP are unexplained bruises, petechiae (small reddish spots that are caused by bleeding), and unusual bleeding (such as heavy nosebleeds, excessive menstruation, blood in the mouth, or urinary or fecal blood). In addition, many times ITP is accompanied by feelings of fatigue and/or depression.
Treatment for ITP typically depends upon the underlying cause, if one is present. For example, if a drug is suspected of causing the ITP, the doctor may recommend discontinuing that drug and using a different one. If an infection is responsible, the doctor will attack the infection and try to bring it under control. In some cases, the ITP is mild and the doctor may take a “wait and see” approach first; sometimes ITP goes away with no intervention required.
If an underlying cause cannot be determined, or if initial treatment for an underlying cause is ineffective, a course of medication may be called for. This typically involves using corticosteroids and/or intravenous immune globulin infusions.
Aging parents who experience symptoms related to ITP should contact their doctor to determine appropriate next steps.