White blood cells comprise an important part of the body's immune system. Otherwise known as leukocytes, white blood cells fight pathogens and foreign materials that enter the body. These cells are found all over the body, including the blood and the lymphatic vessels. White blood cells are produced by stem cells in the bone marrow, and the name is derived from their color.
There are different types of white blood cells with varying functions. They include neutrophils, lymphocytes, basophils, eosinophils, and monocytes. Studies show that around 1% of the human blood comprises white blood cells. The normal white blood cell count in one liter of human blood ranges between 4 to 11 million. A substantial increase or decrease in this number could be an indication of some underlying medical condition.
Low White Blood Cell Count
This condition denotes a decrease in the number of white blood cells in the blood. The condition is called leukopenia, which is detected through preliminary blood tests. Further tests can reveal the type of white blood cell that is affected. In a healthy person, there will be around 60% of neutrophils, 5% monocytes, 4% eosinophils, and 1% basophils.
Detecting the specific type of white blood cell that has been affected, helps in diagnosing the underlying condition. It has been said that, the standards for determining leukopenia may vary, according to factors, like age, gender, and test method. However, any count that is below 3,500 white blood cells per microliter of blood is diagnosed as a case of leukopenia.
As mentioned above, low white blood count can be caused by various medical conditions, and intake of certain drugs. Medical conditions that can cause low white blood cell count are aplastic anemia and some autoimmune diseases that can destroy WBCs. Other causes include myelodysplastic syndrome, hyperthyroidism, inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, and liver or spleen disorders. Some congenital disorders are linked to this condition. Even viral, bacterial, and parasitic infections can cause a low WBC count. Chemotherapy is one of those medical procedures that can cause a decrease in white blood cell count. This can also happen due to radiation therapy.
In case of low white blood cell count, the immune system becomes weak, and the body gets prone to infections. While mild symptoms may not be noticeable, severe ones need immediate medical attention. In children, symptoms, like fever, lightheadedness, and anemia, may develop. Irritability, hot flashes, fatigue and chills, are some of the other symptoms. While some people experience hematoma (localized swelling with blood accumulation), prolonged menstruation is common in affected women.
The affected person may also develop gastrointestinal and urinary infections, along with extreme fatigue and sleepiness. In some cases, the symptoms include diarrhea, stomach cramps, sore throat, canker sores, and headache. In case of fever, seek immediate medical attention, if the body temperature crosses 100°F . Those with gastrointestinal infections, must watch out for symptoms, like diarrhea, rectal bleeding, and stomach cramps. Urinary infections may cause pain and burning sensation during urination. Infections with high fever should be treated as emergency conditions.
If you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above, seek immediate medical attention to diagnose the underlying condition, and get it treated at the earliest. The physician may also suggest a bone marrow test as a part of the diagnosis. Once the underlying condition is diagnosed, it has to be treated accordingly, in order to cure leukopenia. The doctor may also prescribe medicines that trigger production of white blood cells. Antimicrobial drugs may also be used for treating those with infections. If the condition is not cured with regular treatment, blood transfusion may also be required.
Those with leukopenia must take precautions to keep away from infections. Wash hands thoroughly and frequently, and avoid conditions that may lead to infections. In case of cuts and scratches, use an antiseptic ointment, after cleaning.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice. Visiting your physician is the safest way to diagnose and treat any health condition.