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BACKGROUND: Thrombocytopenia is a common finding in several diseases but almost nothing is known about the prevalence of thrombocytopenia in the general population. We examined the prevalence of thrombocytopenia and determinants of platelet count in a healthy population with a wide age range. DESIGN AND METHODS: We performed a cross-sectional study on 12,517 inhabitants of ten villages (80% of residents) in a secluded area of Sardinia (Ogliastra). Participants underwent a complete blood count evaluation and a structured questionnaire, used to collect epidemiological data. RESULTS: We observed a platelet count lower than 150 × 10⁹/L in 3.2% (2.8%-3.6%) of females and 4.8% (4.3%-5.4%) of males, with a value of 3.9% (3.6%-4.3%) in the entire population. Thrombocytopenia was mild (platelet count: 100 × 10⁹/L-150 × 10⁹/L), asymptomatic and not associated with other cytopenias or overt disorders in most cases. Its standardized prevalence was quite different in different villages, with values ranging from 1.5% to 6.8%, and was negatively correlated with the prevalence of a mild form of thrombocytosis, which ranged from 0.9% to 4.5%. Analysis of platelet counts across classes of age revealed that platelet number decreased progressively with aging. As a consequence, thrombocytopenia was nearly absent in young people and its prevalence increased regularly during lifetime. The opposite occurred for thrombocytosis. CONCLUSIONS: Given the high genetic differentiation among Ogliastra villages with "high" and "low" platelet counts and the substantial heritability of this quantitative trait (54%), we concluded that the propensity to present mild and transient thrombocytosis in youth and to acquire mild thrombocytopenia during aging are new genetic traits.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





96 - 101


Institute of Molecular Genetics, CNR, Pavia, Italy.


Humans, Thrombocytopenia, Thrombocytosis, Genetic Predisposition to Disease, Platelet Count, Prognosis, Prevalence, Risk Factors, Cross-Sectional Studies, Adolescent, Adult, Aged, Aged, 80 and over, Middle Aged, Child, Child, Preschool, Italy, Female, Male, Young Adult