Leukopenia Definition – What is Leukopenia?
Bone marrow produces white blood cells known as leukocytes that protect against foreign bodies entering the system and causing infection. Normally, there should be 4000 leukocytes per micro liter of blood. Disruption in the ordinary functioning of the body or other pathological causes results in the low white count leading to the condition known as Leukopenia. The body hence becomes vulnerable to diseases and infections as the body’s defense mechanism cannot fight against foreign bodies.
The Body contains the following types of Leukocytes:
Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia is a kind of cancer where the bone marrow produces too many lymphocytes. The symptoms are usually swollen lymph nodes or tiredness.
Types of Leukopenia
There are five types of leukocytes produced in the bone marrow. However, only a decrease in the levels of Neutrophils and Lymphocytes are taken into consideration with regard to Leukopenia. The quantity of Monocytes, Eosinophils and Basophils are not taken into account because they are produced in very low quantities. Thus a decrease in their quantity will not cause a substantial decrease in the level of leukocytes.
Therefore, mentioned below are the two types of Leukopenia:
- Neutropenia – Deficiency of neutrophils is known as neutropenia. Neutrophils are produced in the largest amounts as compared to the others. Most often it is taken for granted that Leukopenia in any case is due to neutropenia as it is the most probable cause. Commonly, less than 1700 neutrophils or in severe cases, less than 500 neutrophils is considered to be a condition of neutropenia. The body is affected adversely under such a condition as neutrophils are the first to respond to any kind of infection.
- Lymphopenia – The second largest amount of leukocytes produced in the body is lymphocytes. Lymphocyte count lower than 2000/ micro liter of blood in children below the age of six years and less than 1500/ micro liter in others is referred to as lymphopenia. Acute bacterial infection, HIV, rubella, etc. may cause such a condition. Malnutrition is another major cause of reduced production of lymphocytes.
Causes of Leukopenia
- Bone marrow affected by cancer – Lymphomas and other forms of cancer affect the bone marrow. It disrupts the leukocyte producing capability resulting in leucopenia.
- Severe infections – Leucocytes help to fight foreign bodies and protect the body against infections. In cases of severe infections a large number of the leukocytes may be used very quickly. However, the leucocytes cannot be replenished at the same speed.
- Aplastic anemia – This condition affects the bone marrow in a way that disrupts its white and red blood cell producing capability. As a result there is a subsequent decrease in the white blood cell count.
- Hypersplenism – The spleen is an organ that filters blood cells and helps to remove the damaged red and white blood cells that are of no use to the body. However, a hyper active spleen filters both good as well as damaged blood cells. This reduces the number of leukocytes in the body.
- Drug use – Bupropion and antibiotics such as Minocycline and penicillin are used as antidepressant. Additionally, smoking addiction may decrease the production of leukocytes. Leukopenia may also be caused due to the consumption of antipsychotic medication called clozapine, antiepileptic agents such as sodium valproate and lamotrigine, immunosuppressive drugs and interferon.
- Damage of the bone marrow – Exposure to certain toxins, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, etc. may damage the bone marrow and reduce its production. This results in the decrease in the level of leukocytes.
- Myelodysplastic syndrome – This is a blood disorder which causes a decrease in the levels platelets, red and white blood cells. It is also known as pre-leukemia due to the possibility of the individual to develop the disease.
- Myelofibrosis – It is a bone marrow disorder that disrupts the production of blood cells. It may cause fatigue, weakness and anemia as a result of excessive scarring of the bone marrow.
- Malnutrition – A deficiency of certain vital minerals and vitamins in the body can lead to decreased production of leukocytes. Some of these nutrients might be helpful in the functioning of the bone marrow. Thus, food items that are rich in vitamin B-12, folate, zinc and copper must be consumed.
- Autoimmune disorders – In such a condition the body’s mechanism is unable to recognize its own white blood cells. They think of the leukocytes as foreign bodies and attack them. Hence, white blood cells do not survive. Such conditions include systematic lupus erythematosus and rheumatoid arthritis.
- Pseudoleukopenia – White blood cells are responsible for defending the body against infections as the first line of defense. When a foreign body enters the system, the white blood cells are produced in larger quantities. However, they accumulate around the margins of the blood vessels in order to inspect the site of infection and their quantity remains very low in blood samples from core blood. Such a condition is known as pseudoleukopenia where there is a false sense of deficiency of leukocytes.
Symptoms Related to Leukopenia
- Fever higher than 100.5 ˚F
- Anemia (lesser number of healthy rbc in the blood)
- Liver abscesses (bacterial infection in the liver)
- Oral ulcers & other infections
- Craving to consume hot drinks
- Menorrhagia (prolonged and heavy menstruation)
- Mentrorrhagia (infective bleeding from the uterus)
- Stomatitis (inflammation of mucous lining of cheeks, tongue, lips, gums, etc.)
- Pneumonia ( inflammation of lungs due to bacteria or virus)
- Hot flashes
- Thrombocytopenia ( low platelets due to bone marrow damage)
Tests for leucopenia
- Complete blood count
- Biopsy of bone marrow
- Flow cytometry
- Biopsy of lymph node
- Physical examination
Treatment For Leukopenia
- Termination of treatments that may induce leucopenia – Treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation cause a decrease in the level of leukocytes. If these treatments are stopped, the amount of leukocytes may rise to the normal level. However, time taken by the system to produce leukocytes varies from a person to another.
- Diet – People having low count of white blood cells must adopt low bacteria diet. They should avoid the consumption of food items that are most likely to be infected or food that is cooked using methods that allow easy contamination. Eating lots and fruits and vegetables provides essential vitamins and minerals to help the body defend itself.
- Medications – Some medications are prescribed to stimulate proper functioning of the bone marrow in order to produce more leukocytes. Antifungal to treat fungal infections and antibiotics to treat bacterial infections are also given to clear probable causes of low white blood cell count.
- Sleep – Adequate amount of sleep gives the body ample time to rest and repair its damages. During the period one sleeps, the bone marrow produces leukocytes. A minimum of 6-7 hours of sleep is essential for an adult on a regular basis.
- Staying away from germs – People having low count of leukocytes must steer clear of situations that make them vulnerable to contact with germs. Keeping your hands clean, staying away from dirt, washing hands before meals, etc. are all ways to reduce chances of infection.
When to meet a doctor?
A doctor must be consulted if the symptoms do not subside within a few days. Severe symptoms require professional medic al assistance to avoid any further complications.