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Low Lymphocytes

Low Lymphocytes

Low lymphocyte count or lymphocytopenia is a cause of worry as it may be an indication of an underlying disease or illness. Scroll down to know the details of this condition.
Loveleena Rajeev
Last Updated: Feb 26, 2018
Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cells that are responsible for protecting the body against disease-causing agents. There are three main types of lymphocytes: T cells, B cells, and natural killer (NK) cells. Together, these cells build the body's immunity by inhibiting growth of malignant cells, and producing antibodies. Studies indicate that T cells and B cells play a vital role in controlling the growth of cancerous cells. Lymphocytes are produced in the bone marrow along with other kinds of blood cells. A healthy count is integral to the body's defense mechanism. However, there are times when the count falls below the normal level. In most cases, approximately 15% to 40% of white blood cells are lymphocytes, i.e. the normal range of lymphocyte count is 1000 - 4800/┬ÁL.
Possible Causes of Low Lymphocyte Count
A low lymphocyte count indicates that the body's resistance to fight infection is substantially reduced, and one may become more susceptible to recurring infections. As lymphocytes make up fifteen to forty percent of the total white blood cells that circulate in the bloodstream, a low count can make a person susceptible to serious medical conditions.
Bone Marrow Dysfunction
As lymphocytes are made in the bone marrow, any bone marrow dysfunction can cause the lymphocyte levels to drop. If an individual is suffering from aplastic anemia, in which the bone marrow does not produce sufficient new cells to replenish the blood cells, it can cause a drop in the count. Lymphocyte count may drop if the lymphocytes get trapped in the spleen or lymph nodes.
Infections
Viral or bacterial infections can decrease lymphocyte levels, but in most cases the level rises, once the infection subsides. Immune deficiency syndromes like HIV/AIDS, or recurrent infections such as hepatitis, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, etc., can also lead to a low lymphocyte count.
Inherited Diseases
Inherited conditions such as DiGeorge syndrome, Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome, severe combined immunodeficiency syndrome, and ataxia-telangiectasia could also result in a decrease in the number of lymphocytes.
Autoimmune Diseases
Autoimmune diseases, which are conditions wherein the immune system targets the body's cells and tissues, mistaking them to be disease-causing agents, can also cause a decrease in the number of lymphocytes in the body.
Steroid Therapy
Prolonged use of steroids or antibiotics, or therapy to treat cancer such as radiation or chemotherapy also cause the lymphocyte count to drop.
Signs and Symptoms
When a person has low number of lymphocytes in his blood, he may not show any symptoms pertaining to it. It is when the person is diagnosed for diseases that are a result of low lymphocyte count, that this condition is detected. A person suffering from repeated infections or fever for a long period of time is suspected to have poor immunity due to low lymphocytes.
Tests and Diagnosis
Diagnosis involves detailed assessment of medical history of the person, such as the risk for developing AIDS, any previous sessions of radiation and chemotherapy, family history of diseases with lymphocytopenia, etc. The doctor carries out a physical examination of the person looking out for signs like enlarged lymph nodes and spleen. After the checkup, the person is asked to go through certain tests like complete blood count with differential, flow cytometry, and other tests for suspected underlying diseases.
Treatment
If there isn't a significant drop in the level of lymphocytes, and no underlying disease is involved, doctors do not prescribe any treatment, as the lymphocyte count is likely to return to normal on its own. However, if the condition is a result of a disease or illness, then suitable treatment options are suggested for treating the actual cause of lymphocytopenia. Any kind of infection or fever accompanying the disease is also taken care of.
Diagnosis of this condition at an early stage helps in controlling it in a better way. Following the instructions of doctor properly and taking medications as per the treatment plan helps in speedy recovery.
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.