Leukopenia (White Blood Deficiency): What is it, symptoms, causes and how is it treated?
White blood cells called leukocytes take their name from the Latin words leucko (white) and cyte (cell). The decrease in these cells, which are involved in the creation and regulation of the immune system’s response to both internal and external factors, is expressed as leukopenia. White blood cells are divided into 5 basic groups. Neutrophils, lymphocytes, monocytes, eosinophils, and basophils constitute the main cell groups of white blood cells. The numbers of these cell groups can be affected individually or individually due to various diseases.
What is Leukopenia (White Blood Deficiency)?
Leukopenia refers to the detection of a person’s white blood cell (WBC) count below normal limits in a complete blood count examination. This deficiency in immune cells is important because it may make the person susceptible to infectious diseases.
The range of white blood cell count considered normal in healthy individuals may vary between 3,500-4,000 and 10,000-11,000. The unit of these numbers is the amount of cells in microlitres of blood volume. A white blood cell count below 4000 may indicate the presence of leukopenia in the person.
Although the concepts of leukopenia and neutropenia are sometimes used interchangeably, it should be noted that this is actually an incorrect usage. While the concept of leukopenia is a term that includes all white blood cells and expresses the decrease in any of them, the concept of neutropenia refers to the decrease in the number of neutrophils, which are the most abundant white blood cells.
Neutrophils make up approximately 55-70% of white blood cells. Their main function is to fight against infectious agents caused by bacteria and fungi. After neutrophils, the most common white blood cell in the blood is lymphocytes, which provide defense of the body against viruses. The least numerous cell group among white blood cells is basophils, and these cells take part in the inflammatory response to allergenic substances. Eosinophils are a group of white blood cells thought to play a role in the development of diseases such as allergic reactions and asthma. Monocytes, which are the largest defense cells when examined in terms of size, continue their fight against bacteria, viruses and fungi.
What are the Symptoms of Leukopenia (White Blood Deficiency)?
White blood cells are cells produced in the bone marrow and are critical for the continuation of the body’s defense functions. The decrease in the number of these cells can negatively affect the ability of individuals to fight against diseases and microorganisms that have the potential to cause disease, causing various symptoms of infection:
- chills, shivering
Apart from these common symptoms, complaints that may occur with leukopenia may differ depending on the main cause of this condition and which cell group is affected.
What Causes Leukopenia (White Blood Deficiency)?
Various health problems can cause leukopenia by affecting the production of white blood cells in the bone marrow or accelerating the elimination of these cells:
- Viral and Bacterial Infectious Diseases
A temporary state of leukopenia may occur in acute (sudden onset) viral diseases such as cold or flu. In the first period after infection with these viruses, the process of producing white blood cells in the bone marrow is negatively affected. Apart from these disorders, there may be an increase in the body’s use of white blood cells during the course of some serious diseases. Viral infections, such as HIV, can cause the development of leukopenia by targeting only certain types of white blood cells.
Leukopenia may also occur in various infectious diseases caused by bacteria. Tuberculosis disease is among these diseases. There is an increased risk of developing leukopenia, especially in female individuals, after contracting this severe infection.
- Bone Marrow Problems
Conditions such as aplastic anemia, overactive spleen and myelodysplastic syndrome may result in the development of leukopenia. Bone marrow is a spongy tissue located in the center of bones and produces blood cells. In addition to the mentioned disorders, it should not be forgotten that the bone marrow may be negatively affected and leukopenia may develop after some types of cancer, chemotherapy and radiation applications used in cancer treatment, or exposure to chemicals such as benzene and pesticides (agricultural pesticides).
Various types of cancer, especially leukemia, can damage the bone marrow and lead to the development of leukopenia.
- Autoimmune Disorders
Autoimmune disorders refer to the immune system’s fight against its own tissues and organs. If white blood cells are targeted during the course of diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, people may develop leukopenia.
- Congenital Diseases
Congenital disorders such as Kostmann syndrome can cause leukopenia.
- Nutritional Deficiencies (Malnutrition)
Vitamins and minerals are generally defined as micronutrients. Care should be taken as leukopenia may occur in the deficiency of substances such as vitamin B12, folate, copper and zinc, which are included in these micronutrient groups.
Sarcoidosis is a multisystem disorder characterized by inflammatory formations called granulomas. This disease, which causes severe inflammation in various parts of the body as the immune system becomes overactive, can also affect the bone marrow and cause the development of leukopenia.
In addition to these health problems, it can be detected that people develop leukopenia after the use of various drugs used to treat some diseases. Interferon-derived drugs used in the treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS), some anti-seizure drugs, drugs used in the treatment of smoking cessation and depression with the active ingredient bupropion, some antipsychotics, steroid drugs and some antibiotics such as penicillin, drugs that may cause suppression of the bone marrow and therefore the development of leukopenia after their use. It is located between. For this reason, it is very important to avoid using medications that are not within the knowledge and prescription of physicians.
How to Diagnose Leukopenia (White Blood Deficiency)?
The diagnosis of leukopenia can be made by examining the levels of these cells in a complete blood count, which is a very simple test.
How is Leukopenia (White Blood Deficiency) Treated?
Leukopenia treatment may vary depending on which defense cell type is affected and what is the main reason for this condition. There are various methods that can be applied within the scope of the treatment approach to leukopenia:
In individuals with leukopenia, the production of immune system cells in the body can be supported by the use of various medications. If infectious diseases are determined to be effective in the development of leukopenia, it may be necessary to prescribe antiviral, antifungal or antibiotic drugs for the infectious agent.
The underlying reason for the development of leukopenia in some people may be medications used for various health problems. These medications can be replaced with alternatives that are less likely to cause these side effects, with the knowledge and recommendation of physicians.
- Growth Factor Use
Various growth factors used to stimulate stem cells in the bone marrow and support the production of immune system cells from these cells is a practice that can yield positive results, especially in some genetic disorders and leukopenia cases caused by chemotherapy.
- Nutritional Style Changes
In general, it is desirable to keep the bacterial level in foods consumed by people with severe leukopenia low. At the same time, it is recommended that people with leukopenia pay more attention to the body’s vitamin and mineral needs within the scope of a healthy and balanced diet.
In addition to changing the diet, methods such as resting, taking precautions against all kinds of cuts, even minor ones, and restoring body hygiene after contact with environments containing creatures that have the potential to cause disease, are among the practices that people with leukopenia can perform to avoid serious infection situations.
Considering all these features, it is recommended that individuals with leukopenia have regular check-ups and their white blood cell levels are routinely examined.