The Human Body

Platelets and Clotting

The smallest cells in the blood are the platelets, which are designed for a single purpose—to begin the process of coagulation, or forming a clot, whenever a blood vessel is broken. As soon as an artery or vein is injured, the platelets in the area of the injury begin to clump together and stick to the edges of the cut. They also release messengers into the blood that perform a variety of functions: constricting the blood vessels to reduce bleeding, attracting more platelets to the area to enlarge the platelet plug, and initiating the work of plasma-based clotting factors, such as fibrinogen. Through a complex mechanism involving many steps and many clotting factors, the plasma protein fibrinogen is transformed into long, sticky threads of fibrin. Together, the platelets and the fibrin create an intertwined meshwork that forms a stable clot. This self-sealing aspect of the blood is crucial to survival.

See also Blood Diseases: Anemia; leukemia, hemophilia