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How Is Thrombotic Thrombocytopenic Purpura Treated?

Thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP) can be fatal or cause lasting damage, such as brain damage or a stroke, if it's not treated right away.

In most cases, TTP occurs suddenly and lasts for days or weeks, but it can go on for months. Relapses (flareups) can occur in up to 60 percent of people who have acquired TTP. Flareups also occur in most people who have inherited TTP.

Plasma treatments are the most common way to treat TTP. Other treatments include medicines and surgery. Treatments are done in a hospital.

Plasma Therapy

Plasma is the liquid part of your blood. It carries blood cells, hormones, enzymes, and nutrients to your body.

TTP is treated with plasma therapy. This includes:

  • Fresh frozen plasma for people who have inherited TTP
  • Plasma exchange for people who have acquired TTP

Plasma therapy is started in the hospital as soon as TTP is diagnosed or suspected.

For inherited TTP, fresh frozen plasma is given through an intravenous (IV) line inserted into a vein. This is done to replace the missing or changed ADAMTS13 enzyme.

Plasma exchange (also called plasmapheresis) is used to treat acquired TTP. This is a lifesaving procedure. It removes antibodies (proteins) from the blood that damage your ADAMTS13 enzyme. Plasma exchange also replaces the ADAMTS13 enzyme.

If plasma exchange isn't available, you may be given fresh frozen plasma until it is available.

During plasma exchange, an IV needle or tube is placed in a vein in your arm to remove blood. The blood goes through a cell separator, which removes plasma from the blood. The nonplasma part of the blood is saved, and donated plasma is added to it.

Then, the blood is put back into you through an IV line inserted into one of your blood vessels. The time required to complete the procedure varies, but it often takes about 2 hours.

Treatments of fresh frozen plasma or plasma exchange usually continue until your blood tests results and signs and symptoms improve. This can take days or weeks, depending on your condition. You'll stay in the hospital while you recover.

Some people who recover from TTP have flareups. This can happen in the hospital or after you go home. If you have a flareup, your doctor will restart plasma therapy.

Other Treatments

Other treatments are used if plasma therapy doesn't work well or if flareups occur often.

For acquired TTP, medicines can slow or stop antibodies to the ADAMTS13 enzyme from forming. Medicines used to treat TTP include glucocorticoids, vincristine, rituximab, and cyclosporine A.

Sometimes surgery to remove the spleen (an organ in the abdomen) is needed. This is because cells in the spleen make the antibodies that block ADAMTS13 enzyme activity.

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March 21, 2014 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.