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Platelet Count

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Also known as: Thrombocyte Count; PLT; Platelet Distribution Width; PDW; Mean Platelet Volume; MPV
Formal name: Platelet Count

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The Test Sample

What is being tested?

Platelets, also called thrombocytes, are tiny fragments of cells that are essential for normal blood clotting. They are formed from very large cells called megakaryocytes in the bone marrow and are released into the blood to circulate. The platelet count is a test that determines the number of platelets in a person's sample of blood. Normal blood smear with arrows pointing to platelets

When there is an injury to a blood vessel or tissue and bleeding begins, platelets help stop bleeding in three ways. They:

  • Adhere to the injury site
  • Clump together (aggregate) with other platelets
  • Release chemical compounds that stimulate further aggregation of other platelets

These steps result in the formation of a loose platelet plug at the site of the injury in a process called primary hemostasis. At the same time, activated platelets support the coagulation cascade, a series of steps that involves the sequential activation of proteins called clotting factors. This secondary hemostasis process results in the formation of strands of fibrin that weave through the loose platelet plug, form a fibrin net, and compress to form a stable clot that remains in place until the injury has healed. When the clot is no longer needed, other factors break the clot down and remove it.

Each component of primary and secondary hemostasis must be present, activated at the right time, and functioning properly for adequate clotting. If there are insufficient platelets, or if platelets are not functioning normally, a stable clot may not form and a person may be at an increased risk of excessive bleeding.

Platelets survive in the circulation about 8 to 10 days, and the bone marrow must continually produce new platelets to replace those that degrade, are used up, and/or are lost through bleeding. Determining the number of platelets in blood with a platelet count can help diagnose a range of disorders having to do with too few or too many platelets.

How is the sample collected for testing?

A blood sample is drawn though a needle placed in a vein in the arm or by a fingerstick (children and adults) or heelstick (newborns).

NOTE: If undergoing medical tests makes you or someone you care for anxious, embarrassed, or even difficult to manage, you might consider reading one or more of the following articles: Coping with Test Pain, Discomfort, and Anxiety, Tips on Blood Testing, Tips to Help Children through Their Medical Tests, and Tips to Help the Elderly through Their Medical Tests.

Another article, Follow That Sample, provides a glimpse at the collection and processing of a blood sample and throat culture.

Is any test preparation needed to ensure the quality of the sample?

No test preparation is needed.