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What is Leukopenia

What is Leukopenia

Leukopenia refers to abnormal lowering in the white blood cell count of a person. This HealthHearty article explains leukopenia and the probable symptoms of low WBC count.
Ningthoujam Sandhyarani
Last Updated: Mar 12, 2018
Leukopenia is also known by a different name, leukocytopenia. Leukopenia is not actually a disease, rather it's a condition that increases the chances of getting affected by several diseases. Hence, correct diagnosis and taking appropriate treatment approaches are essential for every affected individual.

Leukopenia - What is it?

Leukopenia is a medical condition, in which an individual's white blood cell count or leukocyte count is decreased considerably. Considering the fact that low levels of white blood cells indicate a weakened immune system, the overall effect of leukopenia is an increased risk of infectious diseases. The term pseudoleukopenia is used for temporary low white blood cell count, experienced at the outbreak of an infection. In such a case, the release of neutrophil granulocytes increases, and tends to concentrate at the site of infection. Upon conducting a blood test, there may be a variation in the levels of WBC if it is drawn from a particular area outside the infection site.

Causes of Leukopenia

Every disorder is associated with the active responses of the body's natural defense mechanism. The body tries to fight against the foreign particles or combat the infected cells with the help of leukocytes. As a result, the normal white blood cell count is affected, thus increasing the chances of leukopenia. The major causes are listed below:
  • Extended use of strong drugs and medications lowers down the white blood cell count in a patient.
  • To mention a few, chemotherapy and radiation therapies are the major factors that cause decrease in white blood cells.
  • Another drug category that causes reduction in white blood cells are antipsychotic medicine and antidepressant medications.
  • The viral disease HIV/AIDS attacks the WBCs, thus increasing the risk of leukopenia.
  • Patients diagnosed with leukemia, an abnormal proliferation of leukocytes, may also suffer from leukopenia as an adverse effect.
  • Aplastic anemia, in which the bone marrow fails to produce blood cells.
  • Sepsis or infection of the blood by pathogens (bacteria, virus, or fungi) is also one of the major causes.
  • A triggering factor for leukopenia is deficiency of essential nutrients for a prolonged period.
  • Serious allergies, thyroid problems, autoimmune diseases, and genetic disorders are associated with reduction in white blood cells.
Symptoms of Leukopenia

You will often find that the term "leukopenia" is used concurrently with "neutropenia". The latter refers to a decreased count of neutrophil cells in the blood. Precisely, neutropenia is a subtype of leukopenia. Very often, a patient having low white blood cell count manifests thrombocytopenia, meaning abnormal decrease of blood platelets. There aren't any precise leukopenia symptoms, but the referred signs may vary from one patient to another, depending upon the type and severity of the underlying condition.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Leukopenia

A reduced leukocyte is not life-threatening, but lowered immunity and not being able to resist infections, can lead to serious symptoms and at times, death. Knowing about the symptoms and treatment of leukopenia will help in minimizing the complications of this health problem. It can be diagnosed after conducting a complete blood count (CBC) test. The test involves determining the amount of white blood cells in the bloodstream. Based on the white blood cell count, the doctor will determine the seriousness of the problem.

The treatment for leukopenia is attributed to stimulating the bone marrow cells to produce more blood cells. Thus, depending upon the underlying medical problem, leukopenia is treated with the help of steroids and vitamin supplements. For people having nutrient deficiency, dietary supplements are suggested; while for patients with sepsis and bacterial infection, a complete course of antibiotics is prescribed to combat the underlying condition. Likewise, treatment methods for leukopenia differs from one patient to another.

A person with leukopenia will be asked to undergo CBC blood test at regular intervals. The same is with healthy individuals. This way, monitoring of blood cell counts is possible, which in turn will help in identifying the condition, before it becomes too late to treat it effectively.

Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.