Immune Thrombocytopenia Purpura (ITP) and Vaccines

What is immune thrombocytopenia purpura?

Immune thrombocytopenic purpura, or ITP, is a blood disorder in which the platelets drop well below normal levels. Platelets help blood to clot, and ITP can lead to excessive bleeding and bruising.

ITP usually occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys blood platelets. If the cause of the immune reaction is unknown, the condition is called idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura.

When children develop ITP, it’s usually from a viral illness and they generally recover fully without treatment. When adults get ITP, they usually have it longer and require treatment. In some cases, ITP can cause internal bleeding and be life threatening.

What causes ITP?

While ITP sometimes runs in families, it can also happen from other conditions that lead to a decline in platelets, such as viral infections, autoimmune disorders, blood cancers or bacterial infections.

What are the symptoms of ITP?

The symptoms of ITP depend on platelet levels, and some people with this condition have no symptoms. When platelet levels become low enough to cause symptoms, they can include:

  • Bleeding from the nose or gums
  • Blood in the urine or feces
  • Blotches and bruises (called purpura)
  • Heavier or longer periods during menstruation
  • Red spots on the skin called petechiae. This usually occurs on the legs, feet, abdomen, buttocks and arms. Some people with ITP may have petechiae in their mouths.

How is ITP diagnosed?

The most common way to diagnose ITP is through blood tests to identify the number of platelets in the body. If the platelet count is below 150,000, ITP may be the diagnosis. Your doctor may also order:

  • Bone marrow aspiration. Using a very fine needle, a doctor withdraws a sample of liquid bone marrow to check for cells that may not be working as they should.
  • Bone marrow biopsy. Using a different type of needle, your doctor removes a sample of bone marrow tissue to review the number and types of cells within the bone marrow.

How is ITP treated?

Children with ITP typically don’t need treatment while adults usually do. Regardless of the person’s age, this condition should be treated if it is severe or persists.

There are a variety of treatment options to increase platelet counts, including oral and intravenous (IV) medicines.

ITP can also be treated with platelet transfusions and surgery to remove the spleen. This surgery will reduce the destruction of platelets, but also may raise your risk for infections.

Lifestyle changes can also help, such not using aspirin or ibuprofen, which can cause bleeding, and being careful to avoid injuries. It’s especially important to protect your head to avoid bleeding in the brain.

Can vaccines cause ITP?

Vaccines are essential for preventing many illnesses, and vaccine injuries are rare. However, vaccines against measles virus can sometimes cause ITP. It can take up to six weeks after the vaccination for symptoms of ITP to develop.

While this occurs in only one to three children for every 100,000 vaccine doses, the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) recognizes ITP as a vaccine injury in some cases.

Have you been injured?

If you or your child may have developed ITP from a measles or other vaccine covered under VICP, contact our vaccine injury attorneys today. We can file a claim for you with the VICP, at no cost to you.