Leukopenia is a decrease in the number of white blood cells found in blood. It decreases the ability of the body to fight infections and diseases. To know about the symptoms and treatment of leukopenia, read on…
White blood cells or leukocytes are cells of the immune system, they are found in the blood and lymphatic system. They are produced and derived from a multi-potent cell in the bone marrow, known as ‘hematopoietic stem cell’. White blood cells protect the body against infections, diseases and foreign particles. The normal count of white blood cells in the body is between 4×109 and 1.1×1010 in one liter of blood. Leukopenia is a condition which is marked by the reduction of white blood cells or leukocytes in the blood. In leukopenia, the count comes below 4,000 cells per microliter of blood. Though the count vary according to the sex and age.
There are five different types of leukocytes.
- Neutrophils: They defend the body against bacterial or fungal infection. When there is a decrease in the number of neutrophils the condition is known as neutropenia. As neutrophil is the most common subtype of leukocytes, the terms neutropenia and leukopenia can be used interchangeably.
- Eosinophils: These primarily deal with parasitic infections.
- Basophils: They respond to allergies by releasing a chemical called histamine, which causes inflammation.
- Monocytes: They share the function of neutrophils. They also present pieces of pathogens to T cells, which can recognize these pathogens and kill them.
- Lymphocyte: They make antibodies, co-ordinate the immune response, kill cells which are viral or cancer infected.
The most common indicator of this disorder is neutropenia. The neutrophil count is also the most common indicator of an infection risk. If leukopenia is mild, the person will hardly exhibit any symptom, only in severe cases the symptoms start showing up.
- Anemia: It is decrease in red blood cells or decrease in hemoglobin count.
- Menorrhagia: It is abnormally heavy and prolonged menstrual period.
- Metrorrhagia: It is bleeding from the uterus, but not due to menstruation. It is indicative of some infection.
- Neurasthenia: It is a condition characterized by fatigue, headache and disturbed emotional balance.
- Thrombocytopenia: It is a blood disease, in which there are abnormally less number of platelets in the blood.
- Stomatitis: It is an inflammation of the mucous lining of the structures in the mouth, like the cheeks, gums, tongue, lips, etc
- Pneumonia: It causes inflammation in the lungs due to congestion by virus or bacteria.
- Liver abscesses: It is a kind of bacterial infection in the liver. It is relatively rare but fatal.
- Fatigue and Hot Flashes: Fatigue, headache and fever are frequent symptoms. One also experiences hot flashes and irritability.
- Infections and Ulcers: The person becomes susceptible to various infections and oral ulcers.
- Craving: The patient develops strong desire to drink hot drinks.
The primary cause of this disease is extensive neutrophil use or reduction in the number of neutrophils. The other causes are chemotherapy, radiation therapy, leukemia, myelofibrosis, aplastic anemia, influenza, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, some types of cancer, malaria, tuberculosis and dengue. Sometimes, leukopenia is also caused due to Rickettsia infections, enlargement of the spleen, folate deficiencies, psittacosis and sepsis. Other causes are deficiency in certain minerals, such as copper and zinc. People suffering from leukopenia are more prone to cancer and AIDS. Hence, it is very important to treat leukopenia as delay in the treatment can make the person vulnerable to diseases and infections. Following are some of the ways by which the white blood cell count can be increased.
- Steroids and vitamins are prescribed by doctors to activate the bone marrow in order to produce more white blood cells.
- Some therapies like cytokine therapy and chemotherapy are used.
- In severe conditions, the patient may be prescribed a cocktail of drugs depending on the condition.
- Proper sleep is also very important for the body. One should get at least 7 to 8 hours sleep everyday. It is a source of energy and can also help in improving the white cell count.
Low white blood cell count weakens your immune system and puts you at a high risk of infections. Regular CBC (complete blood count) test will help you to keep a tract on your blood cell count. Leukopenia is not considered life-threatening in itself but as it makes the body vulnerable to other diseases it may cause fatal results in the future. Hence, early diagnosis and treatment can save you from critical conditions.
This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.