Why is my hospitalized patient with alcohol withdrawal syndrome so thrombocytopenic?

Although thrombocytopenia associated with chronic alcoholism may be related to complications of cirrhosis (eg, platelet sequestration in spleen due to portal hypertension, poor platelet production, and increased platelet destruction) (1), it may also occur in the absence of cirrhosis due to the direct toxic effect of alcohol on platelet production and survival (2).

In a prospective study of patients ingesting the equivalent of a fifth or more daily of 86 proof whiskey admitted for treatment of alcohol withdrawal—without evidence of severe liver disease, infection or sepsis— 81% had initial platelet counts below 150,000/µl, with about one-third having platelet counts below 100,000 µl (as low as 24,000/ul) (3).
In most patients, 2-3 days elapsed before the platelet count began to rise significantly, peaking 5-18 days after admission. Others have also reported that platelet counts rise within 5-7 days and normalize in a few weeks after alcohol withdrawal (1); bleeding complications have been uncommon in this setting.
Perhaps even more intriguing is the report of the association between thrombocytopenia in early alcohol withdrawal and the development of delirium tremens or seizures (sensitivity and specificity ~ 70%, positive predictive value less than 10% but with a negative predictive value of 99%) (4)! In fact, the authors suggested that, if their findings are corroborated, a normal platelet count could potentially be used to identify patients at low risk of alcohol withdrawal syndrome and therefore outpatient therapy. 

1. Mitchell O, Feldman D, Diakow M, et al. The pathophysiology of thrombocytopenia in chronic liver disease. Hepatic Medicine: Evidence and Research 2016;8 39-50. https://www.dovepress.com/the-pathophysiology-of-thrombocytopenia-in-chronic-liver-disease-peer-reviewed-article-HMER

2. Cowan DH. Effect of alcoholism on hemostasis. Semin Hematol 1980;17:137-47. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6990498

3. Cowan DH, Hines JD. Thrombocytopenia of severe alcoholism. Ann Intern Med 1971;74:37-43. http://annals.org/aim/article-abstract/685069/thrombocytopenia-severe-alcoholism.

4. Berggren U, Falke C, Berglund KJ, et al. Thrombocytopenia in early alcohol withdrawal is associated with development of delirium tremens or seizures. Alcohol & Alcoholism 2009;44:382-86. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19293148

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Why is my hospitalized patient with alcohol withdrawal syndrome so thrombocytopenic?

Should I use a hemoglobin level of 7 or 8 g/dL as a threshold for blood transfusion in my hospitalized patient?

Unlike its previous 2012 guidelines that recommended overlapping hemoglobin level triggers of 7 g/dL to 8 g/dL for most inpatients, the 2016 guidelines from AABB (formerly known as the American Association of Blood Banks) assigns 2 distinct tiers of hemoglobin transfusion triggers: 7 g/DL for hemodynamically stable adults, including those in intensive care units, and 8 g/dL for patients undergoing cardiac or orthopedic surgery or with preexisting cardiovascular disease1 , often defined as history of coronary artery disease, angina, myocardial infarction, stroke, congestive heart failure, or peripheral vascular disease2,3.  

These recommendations are based on an analysis of over 30 randomized trials, taking into account the potential risks of withholding transfusions, including 30-day mortality, and myocardial infarction. The new 2-tier recommendation specifically excludes those with acute coronary syndrome, severe thrombocytopenia (patients treated for hematological or oncological reasons who are at risk of bleeding), and chronic transfusion-dependent anemia.

The guidelines also emphasize that good clinical practice dictates considering not only the hemoglobin level but the overall clinical context when considering blood transfusion in patients. These factors include alternative therapies to transfusion, rate of decline in hemoglobin level, intravascular volume status, dyspnea, exercise tolerance, light-headedness, chest pain considered of cardiac origin, hypotension, tachycardia unresponsive to fluid challenge, and patient preferences.


  1. Carson JL, Guyatt G, Heddle NW. Clinical practice guidelines from the AABB red blood cell transfusion thresholds and storage. JAMA. Doi:10.1001/jama.2016.9185. Published online October 12, 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27732721
  2. Carson JL, Duff A, Poses RM, et al. Effect of anemia and cardiovascular disease on surgical mortality and morbidity. Lancet 1996;348:1055-60. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8874456
  3. Carson JL, Siever F, Cook DR, et al. Liberal versus restrictive blood transfusion strategy: 3-year survial and cause of death results from the FOCUS randomized controlled trial. Lancet 2015;385:1183-1189. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25499165
Should I use a hemoglobin level of 7 or 8 g/dL as a threshold for blood transfusion in my hospitalized patient?