Understanding Mean Platelet Volume (MPV)

Mean platelet volume (MPV) is an important part of your CBC
Credit: Javier Larrea / GettyImages

Mean platelet volume (MPV) is a measure of the average size of your platelets, a type of blood cell that helps prevent bleeding. MPV is particularly important in determining the cause of thrombocytopenia (a low platelet count) or thrombocytosis (a high platelet count), and it can be a useful diagnostic tool even if your platelet count is normal.

Your MPV may also increase or decrease with some conditions such as heart disease, lupus, thyroid disease, and infections.

Platelets and Mean Platelet Volume (MPV)

Platelets, also referred to as thrombocytes, are the cells responsible for forming blood clots to slow down blood loss, prevent infection, and promote healing. When an injury occurs, platelets aggregate to plug the wound and they send hormone signals through the blood to attract protein clotting factors which assist in repairing the injury.

Platelets are produced in the bone marrow by megakaryocytes, which are large precursor cells. The platelets themselves, which are released into the bloodstream from the bone marrow, are actually pieces of the megakaryocytes. Usually, younger platelets are larger in size than older platelets and MPV is often considered a reflection of the average age of your platelets.

Getting Your MPV Checked

MPV is measured as part of your Complete Blood Count (CBC), a blood test used in health screening and for monitoring many health conditions. To obtain an MPV value, your blood is drawn into a purple top tube which contains an anticoagulant so the blood won't clot. If blood is drawn into a tube without an anticoagulant, it may clot, giving an abnormal result for both the platelet count and MPV.

Normal MPV

Your CBC includes your total platelet count as well as your platelet indices, such as MPV. These indices are details about your platelets that provide a fuller description of what your actual platelets look like. In fact, even if you have a normal platelet count, abnormal indices may alert your doctor to a problem.

  • The normal range for platelets is between 150,000 to 450,000 per milliliter, and the lab where you get your test will include their normal range on your CBC report. Ordinarily, platelet levels around 50,000 are associated with bruising. A platelet level below 20,000, can predispose to life-threatening bleeding.
  • The normal MPV ranges from 8.9 to 11.8 fL (femtoliters).
  • Platelet distribution width (PDW), another of the platelet indices often used along with MPV, describes the variation in the width of your platelets, and ranges from 9.6 to 15.3 percent.

When the MPV value is high, the lab will usually check it with a blood smear. The technologist will stain a slide containing a sample of your blood and look at it under the microscope to see if the platelets are clumping together or if you actually have giant platelets.

Causes of a High Mean Platelet Volume (MPV) 

A high MPV is usually a sign that there are more young platelets circulating in your bloodstream. After blood loss due to trauma or a procedure such as major surgery, your body consumes platelets to repair lacerations and stop the blood loss. In response, your bone marrow produces more megakaryocytes, which become young, large platelets, and your MPV rises. You may have a high MPV with a low, normal or high platelet count, and looking at these results together helps provide a diagnosis.

A high MPV with the following platelet counts can suggest associated conditions:

  • A low platelet count along with high MPV occurs when platelets are destroyed, usually by antibodies, an infection, or toxins. For example, idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura  (ITP) is a platelet deficiency caused by destruction of platelets without a known cause.
  • A high platelet count along with high MPV can occur when the bone marrow produces too many platelets, typically due to a genetic mutation or cancer.
  • A normal platelet count along with high MPV suggests conditions such as hyperthyroidism, or chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) a type of cancer.

Conditions that may be associated with an elevated MPV and variable platelet counts include:

  • Non-alcoholic liver disease
  • Genetic abnormalities in platelets
  • Bernard-Soulier Disease (giant platelet syndrome)
  • Bone marrow stimulating drugs, such as erythropoietin or thrombopoietin
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Respiratory Diseases
  • Sepsis
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Pre-eclampsia (toxemia of pregnancy) and HELLP syndrome
  • Heart disease or artificial heart valves

Causes of Low Mean Platelet Volume (MPV)

A low MPV generally suggests that most of your platelets are older and that your bone marrow has slowed down production of platelets. Your total platelet count, as with low MPV, can help in providing insight about the cause.

A low MPV with the following platelet counts can suggest associated conditions:

  • A low platelet count along with low MPV points towards bone marrow disorders that slow down or decrease the production of platelets, such as aplastic anemia.
  • A high platelet count along with low MPV often signifies an infection, inflammation, or cancer.
  • A normal platelet count along with low MPV is common with chronic kidney failure.

Conditions that may be associated with a low MPV and variable platelet counts include :

  • Bone marrow failure
  • Lupus
  • Splenomegaly (an enlargement of the spleen), which often causes platelets to be sequestered (trapped) in the spleen.
  • Medications that suppress platelet formation, such as chemotherapy
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Iron deficiency anemia
  • HIV/AIDS

Further Testing

While MPV is a helpful test, it is not diagnostic. And some conditions, such as cancer, can be associated with a low or a high MPV. Your MPV results are considered along with your other symptoms. For example, you may need a thyroid test if you have symptoms of hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism.

Similarly, if you have unexplained weight loss or bruising with an elevated or low MPV, you may need further testing with a bone marrow biopsy, which can identify certain types of cancer and may determine whether your bone marrow is not functioning as it should.

A Word From Verywell

Some studies suggest that MPV may be associated with predicting conditions such as heart attacks and strokes. Similarly, there may be an association between MPV and some nutritional deficiencies such as vitamin D and vitamin B12. Overall, while it is certainly a helpful value to consider, MPV should be considered along with your overall health status and your other lab results.

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