People diagnosed with myeloproliferative neoplasms, in which the bone marrow does not function properly, often develop basophilia. The following HealthHearty article elaborates more on the possible causes of basophilia.
Did You Know?
Heparin, an anticoagulant found in basophils, ensures that blood does not clot too fast.
Basophilia refers to a condition in which there is abnormally high amount of basophils (also known as basophil granulocytes) circulating in the bloodstream. Basophils are a type of granule-containing white blood cells (WBCs) made in the bone marrow. Red blood cells, platelets and other types of white blood cells are also produced in the bone marrow.
Basophils are the least common type of white blood cells as they are very small in number. They constitute just 0.01% to 0.3% of the total number of white blood cells. Although present in small numbers, they play a crucial role to keep the body safe from bacteria and parasites. However, excess production of basophils is a cause for concern and cannot be ignored.
Basophilia occurring independently is rare, but is a hallmark of chronic myelogenous leukemia. Increase in basophils is also associated with a wide range of medical conditions. They are discussed below:
Myeloproliferative Neoplasms (MPN)
As aforementioned, in basophilia, there is excess production of basophils. Since basophils are produced in the bone marrow, this medical condition is commonly associated with myeloproliferative neoplasms, a group of diseases in which the bone marrow produces excess blood cells (platelets, white blood cells, and red blood cells).
People with bone marrow disorders that interfere with the production of blood cells, often show basophilia. Among the different bone marrow disorders, basophilia is particularly detected in chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), cancer of the bone marrow that causes excessive production of a specific type of white blood cells―referred to as granulocytes. Basophils, eosinophils, and neutrophils are 3 main types of granulocytes. The basophil blood count, especially, increases substantially and accounts for at least a whopping 20% of the total white blood cells circulating in the bloodstream. Abnormal number of basophils have also been associated with basophilic leukemia and polycythemia vera, a type of MPN.
Carcinoma is the cancer of the epithelial cells that form the epithelial tissue. The epithelial tissue covers the internal surfaces of various organs. It also covers the external surfaces as well as lines the interior of blood vessels. This form of cancer that affects the epithelial tissue can also cause basophilia.
Elevated blood basophil count has also been associated with Hodgkins lymphoma―a form of cancer that causes abnormal increase in the number of lymphocytes (a type of white blood cells). Hodgkin’s lymphoma typically affects the lymphatic system in which the lymphoid tissue becomes enlarged. The lymphoid tissue contain the lymph node that house the lymphocytes. Elevated lymphocyte count is often marked by increase in other types of white blood cells including basophils.
An allergy reaction from certain drugs, food, or other environmental factors, can also lead to high concentration of basophils. When the body is exposed to allergens, basophils are activated and release histamines that are responsible for causing a wide range of symptoms including runny nose and watery eyes. However, basophils are found to increase in number during an allergic reaction.
Chronic inflammatory conditions are also responsible for causing elevated levels of basophils. Basophils play a major role in initiating inflammatory allergic response by releasing inflammatory chemicals, like histamine and serotonin, which leads to dilation of blood vessels, bronchial wall muscles become inflamed (asthma), thereby causing breathing problems. In general, following are the conditions in which basophil levels are high:
- Inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
- Chronic eczema
- Rheumatoid arthritis
The onset of infection, be it viral or bacterial, prompts the body to increase the WBC count to combat the infection. WBCs, as we know, attack the pathogens to contain the infection. This is how the body defends itself from various infectious diseases. Following are some common infections in which granulocytes, particularly basophils, increase in number:
Iron deficiency that often leads to anemia can also cause a rise in basophils. In anemia, there is a sharp drop in the number of healthy red blood cells. The body chiefly depends on dietary iron to produce hemoglobin (red, iron-rich protein) present in red blood cells (RBCs). The ability of RBCs to carry oxygen to different parts of the body is due to hemoglobin. However, inadequate dietary iron leads to shortage of hemoglobin, leading to decline in the number of healthy RBCs. People with iron-deficiency anemia tend to show high blood basophil count.
Level of basophils may also increase in people affected with hemolytic anemia, a condition marked by premature destruction of red blood cells.
Endocrinopathy is defined as the disorder of the endocrine system, in which the endocrine glands that produce hormones are not functioning properly. There are 8 endocrine glands, of which thyroid gland is chiefly involved in the secretion of thyroid hormones. There can be increase in basophils in people diagnosed with hypothyroidism―a condition in which the thyroid gland is underactive and produces insufficient amount of hormones.
When endocrinopathy is characterized by poor functioning of the pancreas (yet another endocrine gland), it leads to diabetes mellitus―a condition marked by abnormally high blood sugar levels. The pancreas is involved in the production of insulin, the hormone that keeps the blood sugar in check. However, a dysfunctional pancreas impairs secretion of insulin, which causes chronically elevated blood sugar. Diabetes mellitus is also marked by increase in concentration of basophils. Although the basophil count is high, too much sugar in the bloodstream, impairs their ability to combat infections. Hence, despite increase in basophils, diabetics are susceptible to various infections.
Symptoms will vary depending on the underlying cause of basophilia. For instance, myeloproliferative neoplasms often cause enlargement of spleen, which often leads to abdominal discomfort and sensation of fullness. On the other hand, anemic condition is marked by weakness, persistent fatigue, and headache. Whereas thyroid problems like hypothyroidism can cause constipation, muscle aches, unexplained weight gain, and stiffness in joints.
Basophilia associated with allergic response, infections, or thyroid problems is not worrisome as the issue can be resolved by taking appropriate medication. However, the condition arising from bone marrow cancer is a serious concern and will require systemic treatment.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.