ITP Research funded or supported by the Association

There is no state funding for ITP research, nor does The ITP Support Association receive any government funding, so it is entirely due to the generous donations and fundraising efforts of people with an interest in ITP that such valuable and much-needed research, as listed below, has been carried out.

Grants for ongoing projects include:

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Medical Advisors to the ITP Support Association

'The ITP Support Association has made a substantial difference to the lives of those afflicted with this rare disorder (or rather these rare disorders, since there are subtly different types). Treatment is often difficult to make informed decisions about because the accumulated evidence for efficacy is mostly based on different doctors' opinions rather than hard evidence from carefully designed clinical trials, and doctors are notorious for seeing only two ways of doing things - their way and the wrong way. The Association has therefore developed into a unique, balanced and sound source of advice and information, and families can trust it to educate them and offer reassurance when things seem frightening. It can do this on a personal basis or through its well established publication, The Platelet.

Additionally it has begun to gather sufficient funds to support important research, from simple systematic collection of information about the frequency and outcome of ITP through to cutting edge analysis of gene variations that might relate to the chance of getting it or how those who do, respond to treatment. It thus plays an increasingly important role in advancing medical knowledge. Professor Sir John Lilleyman

Professor Adrian Newland CBE MA FRCP FRCPath, Professor James George MD FACP (USA)
Dr. Drew Provan MD FRCP FRCPath
Dr John Grainger MBChB MD MRCP FRCPath

Dr Will Lester

Dr Nichola Cooper MS, MBBS, MD, FRCP, FRCPath
Dr Jecko Thachil MRCP FRCPath Dr Michael Richards MA BM BCh DM MRCP FRCPath Dr Cindy Neunert MD, MSCS (USA)
Professor Spero Cataland MD, FAAP (USA) Veterinary Advisor
Andrew Kent BVSc



Unlike the publicity and doubts surrounding claims of a link between the MMR triple vaccine and autism clinicians are in agreement that evidence exists of a risk, albeit very small, of the MMR vaccination causing ITP. It was reported in The Lancet in March 95 that there was a causal association between ITP and the MMR vaccine with the risk assessed at 1 in 24,000 vaccinations. Findings from this study were consistent with the view that ITP results largely from the rubella component of the vaccine.

The Principal Medical Officer at the Department of Health (UK), points out that this side effect is listed (although not by the name ITP) on the MMR leaflet issued to parents at the time of vaccination. It states "your child may very rarely get a rash of small bruise like spots due to the rubella part of the immunisation about 2 weeks after the MMR. If you see spots like this, consult your doctor. "

In a subsequent study published* in March 2001 in the Archive Diseases in Childhood (a specialist magazine for paediatricians published by the BMA) researchers from the Public Health Laboratory Service and the Royal Free Hospital analysed certain hospital records of children under the age of 5 who were admitted with ITP within 6 weeks of having the MMR vaccination. Combining data from this and the previous study it was calculated that 2 out of 3 cases of ITP that occur within the six weeks after immunisation are caused by the MMR vaccine. Unlike the earlier report, both the measles and rubella components are now considered likely candidates. *2001; 84: 227-229

Children with MMR induced ITP typically have the transient self-limiting form of the disease with moderately low platelet counts and milder symptoms. Generally, no treatment is needed. Importantly, there is clear evidence that those who have already had ITP are at no greater risk of recurrence as a result of the vaccination. There is no evidence that MMR is causally related to chronic, long-lasting childhood ITP.

The risk of ITP developing as a result of the MMR vaccination is now estimated at 1 in 22,300 doses, but this is considerably less than the risk of ITP developing following the illnesses themselves. Measles induced ITP is common, rubella is estimated at 1 in 3000 cases, and even mumps is occasionally associated with ITP. Of course, there are many more serious complications of these diseases than ITP.

Advice from the Association's medical advisors is that the fear of ITP is no reason to avoid vaccination, either for children who have had ITP before or for those who have never had it. Children are much more likely to come to harm from the diseases the vaccine prevents than from the few and rare side effects (such as ITP) associated with the injection.

MMR booster vaccinations

Parents of children who develop ITP as a result of the MMR jab can request a serum test before the booster is due to see if full immunity has been achieved, and if so, the booster jab will not be necessary. If the serology testing suggests that a child is not fully immune against measles, mumps and rubella then a second dose of MMR is recommended by the Dept of Public Health.

The NHS publish information on MMR side effects.

Please note:
Although every effort is made to ensure that the information given on this website is correct and up to date, the Association cannot be held responsible for errors or omissions. Association personnel are not able to give clinical advice, please contact your personal clinician.


Why remove the spleen?
In people with ITP the immune system treats platelets as foreign and destroys them. The spleen is responsible for removing these damaged platelets and therefore removal of the spleen can help to keep more platelets circulating in the body. Splenectomy used to be the standard treatment for ITP before drug therapies were developed, and it is still carried out in patients with chronic severe ITP (troublesome ITP for a year or more). In the UK leading ITP specialists only carry out splenectomy when all other options have been exhausted, and it has been preceded by an indium labelled platelet spleen scan (performed in the nuclear medicine department of certain hospitals) to investigate whether the platelets are being destroyed in the spleen. If this test shows that platelets are mainly being destroyed elsewhere in the immune system a splenectomy is unlikely to raise the platelet count.

How is the spleen removed
Splenectomy is often carried out as a laparoscopic procedure (keyhole surgery) which has the advantage of a shorter hospital stay and quicker recovery time. However, in some patients the surgeon may need to revert to open surgery if the spleen is particularly large or there are other complications.

What are the risks
There is an increased risk of infection after splenectomy and any fever or infection should receive urgent medical treatment. Vaccinations against hepatitis B, pneumococcal infections, meningitis and hæmophilus influenzæ,will be given before the splenectomy is carried out, or immediately afterwards in the case of an emergency splenectomy. Asplenics (people without a spleen) in the UK are advised by the Department of Health to take antibiotics for life, but in many other countries a standby dose of antibiotics is issued to carry at all times and take at the first sign of infection.

What about children
Children rarely have a splenectomy unless their ITP is particularly troublesome, as most recover from ITP, and the risk of infection without a spleen is far higher until the immune system becomes fully developed in teenage years.

Further reading: The ITP Support Association produces a booklet ITP & Splenectomy giving further information on all aspects of splenectomy, and a leaflet written by Prof Newland entitled 'Is Splenectomy in ITP still a valid treatment option today?' These are available free of charge to members.

See this link for further information by the Health Protection Agency on minimising the risks of infection in people without a spleen.

What is Childhood ITP?

by Dr. John Grainger

This explains about immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP), which is a blood disorder affecting the platelets. It also explains what to expect when your child is diagnosed with the condition.

What are platelets?
Platelets are one of the three types of blood cell, along with red and white blood cells. Platelets are small and sticky and their job is to prevent bruising and stop bleeding after an injury. Platelets, like red and white blood cells, are formed in the bone marrow. A rough idea of how many platelets are circulating in the bloodstream (platelet count) can be made using a sample of blood. The normal platelet count is between is 150 to 400 x 109/l, which means there are between 150,000 and 400,000 platelets in every cubic millimetre of blood. However in the UK we simplify this by describing a platelet count of, say, 150 rather than 150,000. In most cases of ITP the platelet count is less than 20. A low platelet count is called ‘thrombocytopenia’.


What is immune thrombocytopenic purpura?
Immune thrombocytopenic purpura is a medical term for a condition in which there is bruising (purpura) because there are fewer platelets in the blood than usual (thrombocytopenic) and is usually caused by something going wrong with the immune system (the body’s defence against infection) or an allergic reaction of some kind.

Chronic ITP is the term for ITP that has not gone away on its own after 6 months. Only 1 in 4 children with ITP will develop chronic ITP. The majority of children with "chronic" ITP will still have some recovery of the platelet count at a later date and the majority of younger children will still completely recover after a few years even if the ITP is still present at 6 months.

How common is ITP and who does it affect?
About four in every 100,000 children develop ITP each year. There seem to be two groups who develop ITP: young children and young adults. It is more common in girls than boys.

What are the symptoms of ITP?
Most children with a platelet count of under 20 will have petechiae (pinprick blood spots under the skin) and limited bruising. Bruising most commonly follows minor knocks ("easy bruising") but may also occur spontaneously without trauma. Apart from the bruising/ bleeding the children are otherwise well. Common sites of spontaneous bleeding are the gums and nose. Girls may be troubled with heavy periods.

Less common and potentially serious are spontaneous bleeds occurring from the gut or brain. Data from international studies suggests that the risk of serious bleeds is about 3 in 100 children and the risk of brain bleeds is about 1 in 300 children. These bleeds most often occurred in the first week of ITP and were often caused by a rare pre-existing abnormality of the blood vessels in the head. The risk of serious bleeding is much lower when the platelet count recovers to over 20.

What causes ITP?
ITP commonly results due to the immune system mistaking platelets as being foreign and attacking the platelets. In many cases this may follow a viral infection or vaccination during which time the immune system attacks the virus but the immune system then goes on to think that the platelets are viral material and starts to attack the platelets.

How is ITP diagnosed?
ITP is usually diagnosed using a blood test called a ‘full blood count’. When a sample of your child’s blood is examined under a microscope, a haematologist can examine each blood cell type closely. This is to rule out other conditions that may cause similar symptoms to ITP. If the platelets, red blood cells and white blood cells all look normal, this rules out leukaemia. If the low platelet count improves quickly and no treatment is needed, your child will not need any further tests.

If the platelet count is not showing signs of recovery by 3 to 6 months then a small sample of bone marrow will need to be taken and examined under the microscope. Additional blood tests may be taken at this time to exclude rare clotting or immune diseases that can mimic ITP. If the bone marrow looks normal, with the usual or higher number of platelet parent cells (megakaryocytes) and other blood tests are normal then the doctor will diagnose chronic ITP.

What is the outlook for children with ITP?
Many children, particularly younger ones, suddenly improve within six weeks, whether or not treatment has been given. Three out of four children will have improved by 6 months after the start of ITP. Even those who fail to recover completely will reach a platelet count over 20 and have fewer bleeding problems. After six months about 25% of children will fully recover over the following year and over half will recover over several years.

When ITP recovers about one in 20 children will have a further occurrence in the future.

How is ITP treated?
Most children do not need any treatment unless they have severe bleeding, and most children improve whether or not treatment is given. The type of treatment recommended depends on your child’s symptoms rather than their platelet count. All the various forms of treatment aim to temporarily improve the platelet count and do not cure the condition itself. When treatments are considered, you will have the chance to discuss the risks and benefits of these, as opposed to no treatment, with the doctor. The options for treating ITP include:

1) No treatment

The majority of children with ITP have a low platelet count but do not have dangerous bleeding. If severe bleeding is not present at the time of diagnosis then it is very rare for dangerous bleeding to develop later. Without treatment most children will have a platelet count over 20 within 5 days and a normal platelet count by six months.

2) Tranexamic acid

Tranexamic acid does not increase the platelet count but does help the blood to produce clots. It is particularly useful for gum bleeds, nose bleeds or heavy periods and helps the blood to form clots without altering the platelet count. It is best taken as a liquid ("swish and swallow") three times per day. It most not be used if there is any blood in the urine.

3) Steroid treatment

Steroids are sometimes given to children with ITP on a short-term basis in an attempt to increase their platelet count. However, when the steroid dose is reduced, the platelet count will drop again after a few days. Steroids should only be given for a short period of between 4 to 7 days. Side effects such as weight gain and mood changes are common. Longer courses of steroids may dampen the immune system, weaken bones, cause diabetes or obesity and stunt growth.

3) Intravenous immunoglobulin

Immunoglobulins are antibodies which can reduce platelet destruction. They are a blood product produced from many donors and have a theoretical but very low risk of transmitting blood-borne infections. One course of treatment with immunoglobulin takes two to five days as an in-patient in the hospital and the benefit will usually last about a month. Side effects such as fever and headaches are common.

4) Anti – D (WinRho)

WinRho can be used in Rhesus positive children (about 85% of children). WinRho is similar to immunoglobulin in producing antibodies which the immune system targets rather than the platelets. Anti-D is also a blood product but produced from a small number of donors. A small drop in the haemoglobin is common, rarely (1 in 40000 recipients) a severe and dangerous drop in the haemoglobin is seen. Anti-D can be given as a day case over about ten minutes and the benefit may last for several weeks.

5) Splenectomy

In ITP the majority of platelets are destroyed in the spleen. Removing the spleen (splenectomy) is often effective in preventing early destruction of the platelets and allows the count to rise. In children however this is rarely necessary unless the ITP persists and the child has recurrent severe bleeds. Splenectomy is a major surgical procedure and carries a long term risk of severe infection.

What about school, sport and holidays?
Most severe bleeds tend to occur in the first week and in children with a platelet count under 20. In those children with a count over 20 they can return to school immediately after the head teacher has been informed about the ITP. In children with a lower platelet count school can resume after the first week and when the school have been informed. For primary school aged children it may be best if they take breaks inside if these can not be supervised. The ITP Support Association produces a document for schools, clubs and playgroups.

If your child is on steroids and has not had chicken pox then school will need to inform you if anyone in your child’s class/nursery comes down with chicken pox.

At home it is best to take sensible precautions which all children should follow such only cycling with a helmet and if swimming no diving into the shallow end! It is sensible to avoid sports where there is a risk of head injury whilst the platelet count is below 50 x109/l. Make sure any sports teachers are aware. With a platelet count between 50 and 100 there will still be more bruising so encourage the use of shin pads etc. For further details discuss with your consultant.

It is best not to take any holidays abroad in the first three months of ITP as it may be difficult to get insurance. After this time most cases of ITP will have resolved. If the ITP does persist you will need to discuss further with your doctor and you will need specialist medical insurance. A list of recommended insurance companies can be obtained from ITP Support Association (details below)

What else can I do?
Your child should also avoid drugs like aspirin, ibuprofen (calprofen) or herbal medication which can increase the risk of bruising and bleeding. Finally, you should make sure that doctors and dentists know that your child has a low platelet count if they are due to have an operation.

When to seek help?
When your child is sent home you will be given a clinic appointment for review at the hospital and an emergency number (usually the phone number to the children’s ward). You should contact the hospital in the following circumstances:

  • A prolonged (over 30 minutes) nosebleed which will not stop despite pinching the nose
  • Prolonged gum bleeding
  • Blood in the poo or urine
  • Following a heavy blow to the head, particularly if the child is stunned or sickly
  • Persistent or severe headache
  • Vomiting or drowsiness
  • Children on steroids are at a greater risk of a severe form of chickenpox. If your child has not had chicken pox then contact the hospital If your child is in direct contact with someone who has chicken pox or who develops chickenpox within 7 days of being with your child.

Is there a UK registry?

To maintain accurate numbers of cases of childhood ITP and investigate possible markers for risk of severe bleeding a UK registry has been established ( Families may be routinely asked to consent for anonymous data to be stored on the registry.

Further reading: The ITP Support Association produces the following booklets available free of charge to members.

  • An illustrated booklet to help young children understand ITP. In 2 versions, James tells his story and Jessica tells her story.
  • A booklet for parents, 'What did you call it?
  • A "School Guidelines'leaflet for schools and playgroups
  • A 'Pupil's Factsheet' for schools

Information about the MMR vaccine.