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Home > Blog > The Aetiology and Management of Leukopenia: Low White Blood Cell

The Aetiology and Management of Leukopenia: Low White Blood Cell

The Aetiology and Management of Leukopenia: Low White Blood Cell

Max Lab

Feb 09, 2024

The bones inside the human body are known to be some of the most productive factories. This is mostly because their spongy centre, known as bone marrow, is known to produce blood cells, including white blood cells or leukocytes, which are the immune system’s first line of defence. When a human body detects an injury or infection, the white blood cells are the first responders and help defend the body against intruders, such as bacteria and viruses that may cause infections. But when an individual has lower than normal levels of white blood cells, the condition is known as leukopenia disease. The name itself indicates what leukopenia can mean as the word is made of the phrases, ‘leuko’ and ‘penia’, where leuko means ‘white’ and Penia means ‘deficiency’. Leukopenia may lead to severe infections if left untreated.

Bone marrow is a crucial component in the human body, as it produces about 100 million white blood cells, every day. According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, males are born with 5,000 to 10,000 WBCs per microlitre of blood, while females are born with 4,500 to 11,000 WBCs per microlitre, and children have somewhere between the range of 5,000 to 10,000 WBCs per microlitre of blood. When the level of white blood cells falls below these reference ranges, the condition is called leukopenia. For diagnosing the condition, a complete blood count test, chest X-ray, and several other tests may be prescribed.

What Causes Leukopenia Disease?

Certain underlying health conditions may cause leukopenia disease, such as taking certain medication, suffering from malnutrition or a lack of certain nutrients. Some other common causes of leukopenia include:

Bone Marrow Disorders

Since white blood cells are produced by bone marrow, a deficiency may indicate bone marrow related disorders. Some common bone marrow disorders include leukaemia, multiple myeloma, myelofibrosis, and aplastic anaemia.

Undergoing Cancer Treatment

The production of white blood cells may be negatively impacted by chemotherapy, which is a treatment popularly prescribed for battling cancer. The medication being taken to treat cancer can sometimes inhibit bone marrow function, which can also be one of the causes of leukopenia in the long run. Individuals diagnosed with leukopenia must notify their healthcare professionals if they are on any type of cancer-treating medication.

Congenital Disorders

Congenital disorders, which refer to conditions or abnormalities that are present since birth, may also be a potential cause of leukopenia disease. Some of the most common conditions that can lead to leukopenia include myelokathexis, Kostmann syndrome, or life-threatening congenital neutropenia.

Viral Infections

Several viral infections, such as HIV, viral hepatitis, malaria, typhoid, and tuberculosis, are known as contributors that may cause leukopenia. Other acute viral infections can include the flu or any other severe infection that can lead to leukopenia.

Autoimmune Disorders

There are also certain autoimmune disorders, such as lupus, Sjögren’s syndrome, and rheumatoid arthritis, that are known to destroy white blood cells or bone marrow stem cells. As a result, they may lead to a significant drop in white blood cell count and greater chances of infection.

Symptoms of Leukopenia

An individual may not display any noticeable symptoms of leukopenia, but it leaves them more prone to infections. As a result, an infected person might experience symptoms such as:

A person may experience these symptoms almost immediately, a few days after getting a low white blood cell count, or even after a longer period of time. Hence, visiting a healthcare professional to keep a check on the white blood cell count regularly is always advised.

Diagnosing Leukopenia

For diagnosing leukopenia, a doctor may perform a physical examination, followed by certain diagnostic tests to determine the low white blood cell count. The physical exam may also consist of questions related to the self and the family history, such as the type of symptoms an individual is displaying, history of autoimmune or bone marrow disorders, medication one is taking, and certain lifestyle habits. As a follow-up, a doctor may prescribe a complete blood count or CBC test, which is very helpful for diagnosing leukopenia. The test will inform the doctor about the overall levels of red blood cells, platelets and, most importantly, white blood cells in the body.

Apart from a CBC test, the doctor may also prescribe a CBC with differential, breaking down the levels of different types of white blood cells for a clear report about which type of WBCs are low in the blood.

Several other tests that a healthcare provider may order after the white blood cell count has been deemed to be low include:

  • Tests for viral infections, like flu, HIV, or viral hepatitis.
  • Blood cultures of any affected area.
  • Blood tests for certain autoimmune disorders.
  • Tests for diagnosing bone marrow disorders through a biopsy or aspiration.

Treatment of Leukopenia

The treatment of leukopenia depends on the underlying cause of the low white blood cell count. Preventing leukopenia is especially critical in cases where the condition is at a severe stage or if a person has chronic leukopenia. A mild case of leukopenia means that the individual may not require treatment as the symptoms go away after a few days. Some of the treatments for leukopenia include:

  • Medication to treat the infection.
  • Nutritional counselling and supplementation.
  • Bone marrow transplant.
  • Intravenous immunoglobulin therapy.

If an individual experiences symptoms related to leukopenia, they must consult with a healthcare professional as soon as possible. This will ensure that the white blood cell levels can be controlled in time, so the body remains immune to fight tough viral and bacterial infections and lead a healthy lifestyle.

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