Leukopenia is defined as decreased white blood cells (WBC) count. It is a blood disease in which the number of circulating white blood cells diminishes to a great extent. Leukopenia usually caused by a decrease in the granulocyte numbers, particularly the blood neutrophils. However the disorder may also be caused due to a reduction in the lymphocytes, monocytes, eosinophils and basophils.
The normal white blood cell count varies with age and sex. For an adult male the range is between 4,500 to 11,000 per cubic millimeter of blood. The count is slightly higher in children. If the white blood cell count falls below the normal level, the person is diagnosed with leukopenia.
White blood cells, or leukocytes, provide defense mechanism to the body against diseases and infections. They form a huge part of the immune system work-force. A reduction in any of the subtypes of leukocytes would place an individual at an increased risk of infections and diseases.
What Causes Leukopenia?
Leukopenia is caused by viral infections or congenital disorders of the bone marrow, cancer, anti-immune disorders. Certain pharmaceutical drugs such as clozapine, anti psychotics and immunosuppressants also cause this disorder, though most of the time it is temporary.
Some of the more specific causative factors are:
- An exceptionally severe allergic reaction to an allergen
- Aplastic anemia, a condition is marked by the failure of the bone marrow in producing new cells to replenish the blood cells.
- Radiation therapy
- Hypersplenism, the disorder caused due to the destruction of the blood cells by the spleen.
- Hyperthyroidism which is an overactive tissue within the thyroid gland resulting in the production of excess thyroid hormone.
- Myelofibrosis, a bone marrow disorder where the marrow is subjected to replacement of fibrosis by fibrous tissue.
- Systemic lupus erythematosus, a chronic anti-immunity connective disease affecting parts of the body resulting in tissue damage and infection.
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Vitamin deficiencies
- Anti-immune diseases
- Congenital diseases
- Parasitic diseases
Signs and Symptoms
The symptoms of leukopenia are demonstrated depending on the intensity of the disorder. If the leukopenia is mild, then the immune system remains intact and the symptoms are not easily decipherable. However as the severity of the case increases, patients display a tendency to develop infections caused by a failing immune system such as pneumonias, stomatitis and oral ulcers.
How to Increase White Blood Cells?
A complete blood count test is used to identify this condition. Once the person is diagnosed, practitioners prescribe steroids and drugs to increase the neutrophils. In certain cases treatments such as chemotherapy and cytokine therapy have been used. Chronic Leukopenia can lead to vulnerability to the infections, hence it is advisable to consult the doctor and take necessary precautions.
Low white blood cells in the body - if it is only transitory, as in case of chemotherapy or certain medication - need not be a cause of worry. However, all other causes must be addressed at the earliest to prevent the condition from taking a more serious form. Leukopenia in itself does not cause any harm and cannot be called a 'disease' per se. But leukopenia sure leaves a person more susceptible to all sorts of pathogens. Seek professional help at the earliest.