A practical approach to evaluating postoperative thrombocytopenia Academic Article uri icon

  • Overview
  • Research
  • Identity
  • Additional Document Info
  • View All


  • Abstract Identifying the cause(s) of postoperative thrombocytopenia is challenging. The postoperative period includes numerous interventions, including fluid administration and transfusion of blood products, medication use (including heparin), and increased risk of organ dysfunction and infection. Understanding normal thrombopoietin physiology and the associated expected postoperative platelet count changes is the crucial first step in evaluation. Timing of thrombocytopenia is the most important feature when differentiating causes of postoperative thrombocytopenia. Thrombocytopenia within 4 days of surgery is commonly caused by hemodilution and increased perioperative platelet consumption prior to thrombopoietin-induced platelet count recovery and transient platelet count overshoot. A much broader list of possible conditions that can cause late-onset thrombocytopenia (postoperative day 5 [POD5] or later) is generally divided into consumptive and destructive causes. The former includes common (eg, infection-associated disseminated intravascular coagulation) and rare (eg, postoperative thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura) conditions, whereas the latter includes such entities as drug-induced immune thrombocytopenia or posttransfusion purpura. Heparin-induced thrombocytopenia is a unique entity associated with thrombosis that is typically related to intraoperative/perioperative heparin exposure, although it can develop following knee replacement surgery even in the absence of heparin exposure. Very late onset (POD10 or later) of thrombocytopenia can indicate bacterial or fungal infection. Lastly, thrombocytopenia after mechanical device implantation requires unique considerations. Understanding the timing and severity of postoperative thrombocytopenia provides a practical approach to a common and challenging consultation.


  • Skeith, Leslie
  • Baumann Kreuziger, Lisa
  • Crowther, Mark
  • Warkentin, Theodore E

publication date

  • February 25, 2020