Causes for Low White Blood Cells in your System
Leukopenia is the scientific term for low white blood cells in your body, a condition which may be indicative of serious problems. Conferring with your physician will be your optimal source of accurate information regarding your health; however, there is a basic guide to inform individuals of why this may occur.
White blood cells are chief elements in the body’s immune system. It can be said that our bodies are forever on guard against attack by foreign substances, such as toxins, parasites, viruses and bacteria; our own all inclusive army, as it were. Any of these foreign substances have the ability to attack, destroy and conquer different areas in our bodies when certain conditions exist and if there is no safeguard in place. That is where our immune system steps in. In order to keep our systems safe and able to perform their prescribed functions, they must continually battle infections and invasions from the toxins we are exposed to on a daily basis. The immune system is composed of many cells that build our “army”; the majority of which are white blood cells. It is their duty to act as our defensive mechanism by fighting infection, and ward off any of those foreign substances constantly threatening our health. The white blood cells, just like the red, have their beginnings in the stem cells of our bone marrow.
There are times when your doctor will advise having a WBC, or white blood count, performed. A complete blood count is often ordered as part of a routine medical exam; a segment of which is the white blood count. When health conditions warrant it, however, your doctor may have the WBC tested on a regular basis to monitor your status.
The test is relatively simple and painless, requiring blood being drawn from a vein. The purpose of the test is to determine how many white blood cells you have; during times when your body is fighting an infection, more white blood cells than normal will be present. When the test indicates that you have low white blood cells, the condition is called leucopenia. The possible causes for the condition could be:
1) Problems with bone marrow (possible viral infection)
2) Collagen-vascular diseases (example: lupus erythematosus)
3) Liver or spleen diseases
4) Radiation (as in treatment for cancer)
5) Autoimmune disorders
6) White blood cell destroying medications
7) Severe allergy reactions
9) Vitamin deficiencies
10) Infections (example: typhoid, tuberculosis, virus disorders)
Other diseases and disorders could also be attributable to a low count of white blood cells; again, this is merely a guide to possible causes. It is always advisable to discuss your condition with your doctor for an accurate diagnosis.
Symptoms of low WBC
For an otherwise healthy person that has a low WBC, the symptoms of the condition may very well be mistaken for those of the flu. People who have chronic conditions that have created the low WBC need to be aware of the symptoms that may occur. This could indicate that their medication is not working at the level it should. Fever, stomach cramps, diarrhea, canker or other mouth sores, coughing, sneezing, headache or body aches may all be indicative of infections. For those with an already weakened immune system and no way to fight off the infection, these illnesses could pose an extremely dangerous situation for them. Intravenously administered antibiotics may be deemed necessary to assist in building up the white blood cell count that will effectively fight off the infection.
In the world of white blood cells, there exist five sub-types present in the human body; each with its own functions. When a condition involving low white blood cells is diagnosed, generally only one of these types of cells exhibits decreased levels; the type whose specific purpose is to fight off a particular type of infection. In most cases, all of the other while blood cell types remain in the normal range. It is for this reason that symptoms of the condition can vary, not only from person to person, but also from incident to incident within the same person.
Diagnosis of low white blood count involves identifying the type of white blood cell causing the problem. A low white blood count means that the individual has a weakened immune system and at risk for infection. The longer the count stays low, the greater the risk for the person to become ill. The most important treatment for an individual suffering from low WBC is prevention. Avoiding germs by frequent hand washing, vigorous cleaning of kitchen and bathroom surfaces using a disinfectant cleanser, all foods should be properly stored and cooked (hot foods served hot, cold foods served cold) and shellfish and fish may need to be avoided until the person’s system is back on track. Take additional care not to scratch or burn the skin; many bacteria enter the bloodstream in that manner. For existing skin irritations, keep them covered with an antibacterial gel and an adhesive strip.
It is also best to avoid social gatherings as much as possible during the period that the white blood count is diminished. Especially in areas where children are often found, germs and bacteria thrive and provide the perfect environment for infecting someone. A mere cough in an elevator could launch numerous bacteria into the atmosphere; harmless enough perhaps for a healthy person but potentially deadly for that one person with low white blood cells.
Medications for those cases when prevention does not work, or before chemotherapy is administered, can be quite effective. Called growth factors, they contain a protein that encourages new cell production by the bone marrow. Filgrastim and pelfilgrastim are the two most common drugs prescribed. They do involve some side effects, such as itchiness and reddening at the site of the injection, fever, chills, aching of bones and joints as well as fatigue. Undergoing current research is the application of stem cells that are believed to stimulate white blood cell production, but are not yet available for use as treatment.
What to do if diagnosed with low WBC
For people who have a chronic illness or disorder in which white blood cell count is typically reduced due to either the condition or its treatment, the treatments and cautionary preventative measures may be part of their daily routine by now. Others, whose diagnosis is new, may find the news frightening and be confused as to how to continue on in their daily routines while being treated. It is important to discuss your condition with your doctor in order to fully understand its implications and how it will affect your life from this point forward. Knowledge is the key to understanding. Be prepared at your next doctor visit, and arrive armed with a list of questions you have compiled. Once you understand how low white blood cells will affect your body, and the overall function of white blood cells within your body, you will have a better and more positive frame of mind with which to battle your disorder.
It could be that your condition may be a temporary one, or it may be one that you will need to learn to live with for the remainder of your life. Either way, it will without a doubt require some adaptations and concessions in your daily life. Learning to live within the confines of the disorder with the ultimate goal of growing stronger and healthier will be your armor to fight the condition. Heeding the doctor’s advice of keeping yourself protected from possible exposure to bacteria and the ensuing infection will be to your advantage, as well as any medication that may be prescribed.
Being diagnosed with leukopenia, or low white blood cells, can be a frightening thing. While there are many reasons why this could be happening to your body, the important thing to remember is to do everything within your power to overcome the disorder. There are medical treatments and preventative measures that are designed to ensure as much as possible the health and safety of those suffering from low WBC and to get them back on a healthy track.
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