Management of patients with refractory immune thrombocytopenic purpura


  • J. N. GEORGE

    1. Hematology–Oncology Section, Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, Colleges of Medicine and Public Health, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, OK, USA
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James N. George, Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, The University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Hematology–Oncology Section, PO Box 26901, Oklahoma City, OK 73190, USA.
Tel.: +1 405 2714222; fax: +1 405 271-6444; e-mail:


Summary.  In immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP), thrombocytopenia is a result of both increased platelet destruction and insufficient platelet production. In adults, the course is commonly chronic, but most patients never experience serious bleeding even with severe thrombocytopenia. In case series of consecutive adult patients identified at the time of diagnosis, the frequency of death from bleeding is low, < 1%. The goal of treatment is only to prevent bleeding, not to correct the platelet count to normal. All current treatments are designed to diminish the increased platelet destruction, either by immunosuppression or splenectomy. The frequency of death from complications of treatment is similar to the frequency of death from bleeding. Perhaps because of increasing recognition of both the infrequent occurrence of serious bleeding and the risks of immunosuppressive treatment and splenectomy, data from case series across the past 30 years suggest a trend toward less therapy and fewer splenectomies among patients with ITP. However treatment is necessary for patients with severe and symptomatic thrombocytopenia. Splenectomy remains the most effective treatment for ITP, with two-thirds of patients achieving durable complete remissions. Immunosuppressive agents, including rituximab and combinations of agents, may be less effective than splenectomy in achieving complete remissions and the remissions may also be less durable. New agents for patients with ITP are currently in development that enhance platelet production, rather than diminish platelet destruction. In preliminary reports, these agents have been effective in maintaining safe platelet counts in patients with chronic ITP that was refractory to splenectomy and other treatments.