Thrombocytopenia can be a complication of hepatitis C viral (HCV) infection. However, there is little published data regarding the clinical and laboratory manifestations of HCV-related thrombocytopenia (HCV-TP) compared with adult chronic immune thrombocytopenic purpura (CITP). We reviewed the medical records for all patients evaluated for chronic thrombocytopenia by the Haematology Service between January 1996 and June 2000. All patients were screened for HCV infection at the time of initial diagnosis. Of 250 patients who fulfilled American Society of Hematology criteria for CITP, 76 (30%) were HCV seropositive. HCV-TP patients were older [mean age (±SD) 54·9 ± 8 years vs. 40·3 ± 8 years, P ≤ 0·001] and equally distributed between both sexes. HCV-TP patients had less severe thrombocytopenia, defined as platelet count ≤10 × 109/l (4% vs. 46% for CITP, P ≤ 0·001). However, 56 (74%) had a platelet count ≤50 × 109/l. Symptoms and signs of thrombocytopenia were less frequent in HCV-TP, but major bleeding was more frequent (25% vs. 10%, P = 0·0059). Serum cryoglobulins and anticardiolipin antibodies were more frequent in HCV-TP (90% and 62% respectively), but rare in CITP (7% and 15%, P ≤ 0·001 compared with HCV-TP). HCV infection can be associated with significant thrombocytopenia and appears to be a distinct clinical entity.