Thrombocytopenia in chronic liver disease

Liver Int. 2017 Jun;37(6):778-793. doi: 10.1111/liv.13317. Epub 2016 Dec 27.


Thrombocytopenia is a common haematological disorder in patients with chronic liver disease. It is multifactorial and severity of liver disease is the most influential factor. As a result of the increased risk of bleeding, thrombocytopenia may impact upon medical procedures, such as surgery or liver biopsy. The pathophysiology of thrombocytopenia in chronic liver disease has long been associated with the hypothesis of hypersplenism, where portal hypertension causes pooling and sequestration of all corpuscular elements of the blood, predominantly thrombocytes, in the enlarged and congested spleen. Other mechanisms of importance include bone marrow suppression by toxic substances, such as alcohol or viral infection, and immunological removal of platelets from the circulation. However, insufficient platelet recovery after relief of portal hypertension by shunt procedures or minor and transient recovery after splenic artery embolization have caused many to question the importance and relative contribution of this mechanism to thrombocytopenia. The discovery of the cytokine thrombopoietin has led to the elucidation of a central mechanism. Thrombopoietin is predominantly produced by the liver and is reduced when liver cell mass is severely damaged. This leads to reduced thrombopoiesis in the bone marrow and consequently to thrombocytopenia in the peripheral blood of patients with advanced-stage liver disease. Restoration of adequate thrombopoietin production post-liver transplantation leads to prompt restoration of platelet production. A number of new treatments that substitute thrombopoietin activity are available or in development.

Keywords: chronic liver disease; cirrhosis; thrombocytopenia; thrombopoietin.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chronic Disease
  • Humans
  • Hypersplenism / physiopathology
  • Hypertension, Portal / physiopathology
  • Liver Cirrhosis / complications*
  • Liver Transplantation
  • Patient Care Management
  • Platelet Count
  • Platelet Transfusion
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Thrombocytopenia / etiology*
  • Thrombocytopenia / therapy*
  • Thrombopoietin / metabolism
  • Thrombopoietin / therapeutic use*


  • Thrombopoietin