Platelets are disk-shaped blood cells that are also called thrombocytes. They play a major role in the blood-clotting process. The platelet aggregation test is a measure of platelet function.
The platelet aggregation test aids in the evaluation of bleeding disorders by measuring the rate and degree to which platelets form a clump (aggregate) after the addition of a chemical that stimulates clumping (aggregation).
There are many medications that can affect the results of the platelet aggregation test. The patient should discontinue as many as possible beforehand. Some of the drugs that can decrease platelet aggregation include aspirin, some antibiotics, beta blockers, dextran (Macrodex), alcohol, heparin (Lipo-Hepin), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), tricyclic antidepressants, and warfarin (Coumadin).
There are many factors involved in blood clotting (coagulation). One of the first steps in the process involves small cells in the bloodstream called platelets, which are produced in the bone marrow. Platelets gather at the site of an injury and clump together to form a plug, or aggregate, that helps to limit the loss of blood and promote healing.
Inherited bleeding disorders (e.g., hemophilia or von Willebrand's disease) and acquired bleeding problems that occur because of another disorder or a medication can affect the number of platelets and their level of function. When these problems are present, the result is a drop in platelet aggregation and a lengthened bleeding time.
The platelet aggregation test uses a machine called an aggregometer to measure the cloudiness (turbidity) of blood plasma. Several different substances called agonists are used in the test. These agonists include adenosine diphosphate, epinephrine, thrombin, collagen, and ristocetin. The addition of an agonist to a plasma sample causes the platelets to clump together, making the fluid more transparent. The aggregometer then measures the increased light transmission through the specimen.
The test requires a blood sample. The patient should either avoid food and drink altogether for eight hours before the test, or eat only nonfat foods. High levels of fatty substances in the blood can affect test results.
Because the use of aspirin and/or aspirin compounds can directly affect test results, the patient should avoid these medications for two weeks before the test. If the patient must take aspirin and the test cannot be postponed, the laboratory should be notified and asked to verify the presence of aspirin in the blood plasma. If the results are abnormal, aspirin use must be discontinued and the test repeated in two weeks.
Because the platelet aggregation test is ordered when some type of bleeding problem is suspected, the patient should be cautioned to watch the puncture site for signs of additional bleeding.
Risks for this test are minimal in normal individuals. Patients with bleeding disorders, however, may have prolonged bleeding from the puncture wound or the formation of a bruise (hematoma) under the skin where the blood was withdrawn.
The normal time for platelet aggregation varies somewhat depending on the laboratory, the temperature, the shape of the vial in which the test is performed, and the patient's response to different agonists. For example, the difference between the response to ristocetin and other products should be noted because ristocetin triggers aggregation through a different mechanism than other agonists.
Prolonged platelet aggregation time can be found in such congenital disorders as hemophilia and von Willebrand's disease, as well as in some connective tissue disorders. Prolonged aggregation times can also occur in leukemia or myeloma; after recent heart/lung bypass or kidney dialysis; and after taking certain drugs.
- The blood cell clumping process that is measured in the platelet aggregation test.
- A chemical that is added to the blood sample in the platelet aggregation test to stimulate the clumping process.
- An inherited bleeding disorder caused by a deficiency of factor VIII, one of a series of blood proteins essential for blood clotting.
- Small, round, disk-shaped blood cells that are involved in clot formation. The platelet aggregation test measures the clumping ability of platelets.
- The cloudiness or lack of transparency of a solution.
- Von Willebrand's disease
- An inherited lifelong bleeding disorder caused by a defective gene, similar to hemophilia. The gene defect results in a decreased blood concentration of a substance called von Willebrand's factor (vWF).
For Your Information
- Handbook of Diagnostic Tests, edited by Matthew Cahill. Springhouse, PA: Springhouse Corporation, 1995.
- Laboratory Test Handbook, edited by David S. Jacobs. Cleveland, OH: Lexi-Comp Inc., 1996.
- Pagana, Kathleen Deska, and Timothy James Pagana. Mosby's Diagnostic and Laboratory Test Reference,. St. Louis: Mosby-Year Book, Inc., 1998.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Gale Research, 1999.