White blood cells are like a SWAT team. Anytime an unrecognizable substance invades your body, it dispatches these warrior cells to attack and kill the material. If you have symptoms of low white cell count, your body’s defense system weakens, and you will be vulnerable to infections and illness.
People who have a suppressed immune system due to symptoms of low white blood cell count are often fatigued and stay sick. These may indicate underlying conditions that range from mild to life-threatening. This article discusses the symptoms of low white blood cell count and how to prevent them.
QuickCare or ER
Red flags that will send you to the ER:
- Fever of 100 degrees F or higher.
- Sores anywhere on the body that look infected or will not heal.
- Signs of lung infection (coughing, sneezing, sore throat).
- Signs of a bladder infection (painful/burning sensation when urinating).
- Stomach cramps, diarrhea, bleeding from the rectum.
General Information about Symptoms of Low White Blood Cell Count
The bone marrow is responsible for producing white blood cells, your body’s defense against disease. Symptoms of low white blood cell count are often called neutropenia, or leukopenia. It occurs when the concentration of white blood cells dip below 4,500 cells per microliter of your blood.
You have five different types of white blood cells in your body: basophils, neutrophils, eosinophils, lymphocytes, and monocytes. When you have symptoms of low white blood cell count, it refers to the neutrophils that defend against bacterial infections.
Causes of Low White Cells
Symptoms of low white blood cell count may be caused by several factors. These include invasion or scarring from tumors, liver or spleen disease, bone marrow infection, exposure to toxic drugs or radiation or severe systemic infection. Older people often experience loss of bone density, and their bone marrow may not function properly, leading to low white blood cell count.
If you are being treated for cancer (especially cancer of the blood), the chemotherapy and radiation can deplete your white blood cells. Specific autoimmune disorders like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis may also cause symptoms of low white blood cell count. It may be due to infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, AIDS, or an HIV+ diagnosis. The treatment your hematologist recommends will depend on what caused your drop in white blood cells.
Diagnosing Symptoms of Low White Blood Cell Count
What Will Your Doctor Ask?
First, the doctor will interview you for your medical history. It is important to tell him/her about any illnesses, injuries, or surgeries you had in the past. The doctor will ask about any family members you have (or had) who were diagnosed with symptoms of low white blood cell count. Tell the doctor if you (or family members) have (had) cancer or have taken radiation or chemotherapy.
Medication You Are Taking
Before your doctor visit, make a list of all medications or treatments you are taking, including over-the-counter or herbal remedies. If you currently use recreational drugs or have in the past, the doctor must know. She/he will also ask if you are a smoker. The doctor will inquire about any allergies you have to substances or medication. If you have tested positive for STDs, HIV, or hepatitis, tell your doctor.
Sleeping Patterns and Digestive System
The doctor wants to know about any pain or discomfort you have, its intensity, and how long it lasts. Do you rest well at night, or do you suffer from insomnia? How many hours per night do you sleep, and do you wake up rested or exhausted?
The physician asks these questions to get a better idea of your sleep and energy levels. If you have problems urinating or frequent UTIs, tell the doctor. He/she will ask about your bowel functions, and if you experience constipation or diarrhea.
What Will Your Doctor Look for?
While examining you, the doctor will look for visible symptoms of low white blood cell level. He/she will see if you have a fever, and how you are breathing. Your doctor will palpate your lymph nodes to note their size and sensitivity.
The doctor will check for signs of exhaustion or mental confusion. Diagnosis of low white blood cell count depends on a complete blood count (CBC). In contrast, a high white blood cell count indicates a much different differential diagnosis. A simple urinalysis may be done to look for blood cells in the urine.
What Is the Treatment for Symptoms of Low White Blood Cell Count?
If you are diagnosed with symptoms of low white blood cell count, your primary physician may refer you to a hematologist. This is a specialist in blood disorders.
Your treatment will depend on what caused the condition, any infections you have, their severity, and your general health condition. The treatment will be centered on the underlying disease that depleted your white blood cell count. These are common treatments for symptoms of low white blood cell count:
- Medications that stimulate white blood cell growth, such as filgrastim or sargramostim
- Proper medications to fight infections (antibiotics/antifungals). If the infection is severe or does not respond to oral medication, the doctor may order stronger I.V. medication.
- Granulocyte transfusions (if you have leukemia or are taking cancer chemotherapy)
- Intravenous immune globulin or corticosteroid therapy
- Preventative measures (gloves, gowns, face masks worn by caregivers to minimize the spread of germs or infection.)
Sometimes, the symptoms of low white blood cell count are caused by vitamin deficiencies (determined by blood tests). If this is your case, the doctor may order doses of the proper vitamins, including folate and Vitamin B-12. Many patients with anemia symptoms (are low on iron) may also have symptoms of low white blood cell count.
Wrapping It Up
If you suspect that you have symptoms of low white blood cell count, it is imperative that you consult your doctor. Left untreated, you may miss an underlying disorder that could risk your life. Any infections you notice, no matter how minor, need to be treated by your doctor. Your good health depends on vibrant white blood cells to destroy fungal or bacterial invaders.