Alternative names: Neutropenia
White blood cells play an important role in the immunity/immune system of an individual. The white blood cell count is performed routinely as part of a complete blood count. An unusually high white blood cell count can indicate an infection, hypersplenism, bone marrow depression (drugs, radiation or heavy metal poisoning) or primary bone marrow disorders such as leukemia. A low white blood cell count can be the result of infection, make an individual more susceptible to outside infections or allow multiplication of organisms within the body which would normally kept in check by a healthy immune system.
There are many different types and forms of white cells. Since deficiencies can affect one or more types or forms, a doctor's help and additional testing is usually required to understand the nature or cause of the deficiency.
Neutropenia can occur in acute bacterial infections, viral infections, rickettsia disease, some parasite injections, aplastic and pernicious anemia, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, some hormone imbalances and anaphylactic shock.
Active lupus and an infection may share many symptoms. Further, infection can induce a lupus flare or be difficult to distinguish from a lupus flare. A low white blood cell count is suggestive of active lupus (although certain viruses can also give a low white count) while a high count suggests infection.
Radiation therapy and chemotherapy destroy fast-growing cells such as white blood cells. Patients receiving a combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy are at greater risk of a low white count.
When your white count is low, consider additional personal hygiene measures to reduce the risk of infection. Examples of these could include:
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