Low White Blood Cell Count: Summary and Overview
White blood cells (WBC), also referred to as leukocytes, are cells within the body’s immune system that protect it against foreign bodies and infections. Leukocytes are composed of granulocytes and agranulocytes. When your white blood cell count falls below normal, it is called “leucopenia.” The normal range for the WBC varies between laboratories, but is generally between 4,300 and 10,800 cells per microliter or cubic millimeter (cmm). This is also referred to the leukocyte count.
Neutropenia is a sub-type of leukopenia that refers to a decrease in the number of circulating neutrophil granulocytes, the most common white blood cells. The terms leukopenia and neutropenia are sometimes used interchangeably, as the neutrophil count is the most important indicator of infection risk.
Low White Blood Cell Count: Causes
Your WBC count can fall below normal any time your body is fighting a disease or illness. If your WBC falls below a normal level for a prolonged period, it is called leucopenia. Conditions and diseases that cause leucopenia include:
- Chemotherapy and radiation therapy
- Viral infections that disrupt bone marrow function
- Severe infection, such as sepsis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Autoimmune disorders, such as “lupus erythematosus”
- Congenital disorders that cause reduced bone marrow function
- Other infectious diseases
Certain drugs may also cause your WBC to fall. These include:
- Antithyroid drugs
- Chemotherapy drugs
Low White Blood Cell Count: Symptoms
The normal range for the WBC is generally between 4,300 and 10,800 cells per microliter or cubic millimeter (cmm). It changes according to a person’s age, even with the time of day that the test was done.
However, when the WBC count falls below the normal range, it is usually an indication of an underlying disease. The symptoms depend on the underlying-cause. Some people experience a fall in their WBC count and experience no symptoms. However, for most people, leucopenia causes a range of symptoms, as if you have insufficient WBC to fight diseases, your body will be susceptible to a range of infections, skin problems, viruses, fever, gastro-intestinal problems etc.
Low White Blood Cell Count: Diagnostic Tests
Your WBC count is diagnosed by a taking a sample of blood from a vein, and counting the number of blood cells. The procedure begins by drawing blood from the vein of a patient, typically from the elbow’s inner side or from the hand’s back part. First, antiseptic is applied to clean the area. An elastic band is then wrapped around on the upper part of the arm by the health care provider so that pressure can be applied on the area to that the vein swells up with blood. A needle is injected to draw blood that is then sent for analysis.
If you have a low WBC, you will likely need other tests to determine the underlying cause or disease. Sometimes a bone marrow biopsy may be required to diagnose the specific cause of leucopenia.
There is no special type of preparation required before taking a WBC count blood test. Instead, the doctor must be notified of any prescriptions or over-the-counter medications, as certain types of drugs could interfere with the test results and could result in low white blood count.
Low White Blood Cell Count: Treatment Options
Treatment of leucopenia is based upon the underlying cause, severity, and the presence of associated infections or symptoms. While your doctor may prescribe drugs or treatments to target the underlying cause, he or she may also try to boost your white blood cells directly. This can be done in a number of ways including:
- Administration of white blood cells growth factors (such as recombinant granulocyte colony-stimulating factor or G-CSF).
- Granulocyte transfusions.
- Corticosteroid therapy or intravenous immune globulin for some cases of immune-mediated neutropenia.
In addition, a number of natural remedies have been shown to help boost the body’s immune system, including vitamin B-12 and folic acid. Beta carotene is essential for the production of white blood cells, and is found in carrots and yellow, red, orange and dark green vegetables. Zinc is also an immune booster.
Low White Blood Cell Count: Prevention
A low WBC count is almost always a response to an underlying condition or disease. With so many possible causes, prevention is a matter of doing your best to keep your immune system strong and healthy. Make time for regular exercise, at least four times per week for thirty minutes, eat healthily and drink lots of water or about eight glasses per day. And try to get at least seven hours of sleep per night. If you take care of your body, your immune system is your best defense mechanism against illness, and will work 24-7 to keep you disease-free.
Low White Blood Cell Count: Conclusion
A low WCB is called “leucopenia.” It can be caused by a range of diseases or conditions, or can be a response to certain drugs. Treatment depends on discovering the underlying cause. Dietary and lifestyle changes will help keep your immune system healthy and your WBC at a normal level.