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Immune Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP) in Children: Care Instructions


Immune thrombocytopenic purpura, or ITP, is a blood problem. It happens when your child's immune system doesn't work as it should. The condition destroys platelets in the blood.

Platelets are a kind of cell in the blood. They have a sticky surface that helps them form clots to stop bleeding. Blood can't clot if it doesn't have enough platelets. This can cause abnormal bleeding.

The first symptoms of ITP are usually bruises without a known injury and little red dots under the skin from broken blood vessels. Often, a child who is diagnosed with ITP has had a recent cold or viral infection. In most cases, ITP goes away on its own after several months. But in some cases it may last longer.

ITP may not need treatment. But if your child has bleeding that doesn't stop, he or she may need medicine to help prevent the bleeding. If the bleeding is serious, your child may need to have platelets added to his or her blood. Or your child may need surgery to remove the spleen.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Be safe with medicines. Give your child medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think your child is having a problem with his or her medicine.
  • Talk to your doctor before you give your child any new supplements or over-the-counter or prescribed medicine.
  • Do not give your child aspirin or other anti-inflammatory medicines (such as ibuprofen or naproxen). Ask your doctor if it's okay to use acetaminophen (Tylenol).
  • Help protect your child from injury. When your child's platelet count is low, avoid activities with physical contact.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child passes out (loses consciousness).
  • Your child has signs of severe bleeding. For example:
    • Your child has a severe headache that is different from past headaches.
    • Your child vomits blood or what looks like coffee grounds.
    • Your child's stools are maroon or very bloody.

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child is dizzy or light-headed.
  • Your child has signs of abnormal bleeding, such as:
    • A nosebleed that you can't easily stop. This means it's still bleeding after pressure has been applied for 15 minutes.
    • Stools that are black and look like tar or that have streaks of blood.
    • Blood in the urine.
    • Joint pain.
    • Bruises or red or purple spots under the skin.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • Your child does not get better as expected.

Adapted with permission from copyrighted materials from Healthwise, Incorporated (Healthwise). This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any warranty and is not responsible or liable for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.