White blood cells are immune cells that defend the body against pathogens or disease-causing agents. There are five main types of WBCs: neutrophils, lymphocytes, monocytes, eosinophils, and basophils. These are produced by the stem cells in the bone marrow. Whenever the immune system detects the presence of a foreign substance or disease-causing agent in the body, these immune cells are transported to the site of infection.
While lymphocytes defend the body against bacteria and viruses, eosinophils help the body fight the parasites. Neutrophils and basophils defend the body from bacteria and allergens respectively. In case of healthy individuals, the WBC count ranges between 4,500 and 10,000 white blood cells per micro-liter (mcL). Low white blood cells count is medically referred to as leukopenia.
Causes of Leukopenia
It is believed that a WBC count that is lower than 3,500 per micro-liter of blood can have serious repercussions on one's health. If blood tests reveal a low WBC count, it is indicative of a weakened immune system. If the number of white blood cells decrease, the body's ability to fight the infections will be adversely affected. Susceptibility to infections is one of the most common symptoms of leukopenia. Given below is some information to give you a clearer picture on what does low white blood cell count mean.
Since WBCs are produced by the bone marrow, damage to the bone marrow could affect its ability to produce these immune cells. This could give rise to leukopenia. Aplastic anemia is a rare blood disorder wherein the bone marrow is unable to produce sufficient number of blood cells. This is a disorder wherein the production of new blood cells either decreases considerably or stops. This leads to a low RBC, WBC, and platelet count. It is believed leukopenia could also be a result of an autoimmune response wherein the white blood cells start attacking the bone marrow itself.
Bone Marrow Cancer
Medically referred to as leukemia, cancer of the bone marrow occurs when the bone marrow starts producing abnormal white blood cells. These leukemia cells are produced at a very fast rate and soon outgrow the normal blood cells. This leads to a low WBC count.
Chemotherapy and Radiation Therapy
The WBC count might also decrease in case of individuals who are undergoing chemotherapy. While radiation therapy and chemotherapy helps in destroying the leukemia cells, these also destroy the normal white blood cells. If one has been taking chemotherapy drugs for a long time, one might develop leukopenia.
Other systemic diseases that could cause leukopenia include systematic lupus erythematosus, HIV, hypersplenism, myelokathexis, myelofibrosis, rheumatoid arthritis, or nutritional deficiencies.
A very low WBC count indicates a weakened immune system. Since white blood cells defend the body against disease-causing agents, a person affected by leukopenia is at an increased risk of contracting infections. When white blood cell function is affected, one's ability to recover from diseases is also greatly affected. Therefore, the treatment of leukopenia involves bringing back the white blood cell count to normal. The treatment options include the use of drugs that increase the WBC count. One must also follow a healthy diet and take all possible steps to avoid infections.
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.