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What Are the Causes of Leukocytosis?

By Meshell Powell
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Leukocytosis is a medical term used to describe an elevation in the number of white blood cells in the body and may have a variety of causes, including infection, inflammation, and allergic responses. Additional causes of leukocytosis may include stress, sickle cell anemia, and the use of certain medications. Disease processes such as heart disease, cancer, or ulcerative colitis may also cause a high white blood cell count. A doctor should be consulted in order to find the underlying causes of leukocytosis in a specific situation so that an individualized treatment plan can be devised.

Infection is one of the most common causes of leukocytosis as the body produces more white blood cells in an attempt to fight of the harmful pathogens. Depending on the type of infection present, the extra white blood cells may be noticeable through blood or urine tests. Bacterial infections are typically treated with antibiotics, but different medications may be needed for viral or fungal infections.

Inflammation can occur anywhere in the body and is among the possible causes of leukocytosis. Arthritis, lupus, and physical injury are common inflammatory diseases, and tests may be performed to rule out these conditions when blood tests show an increased number of leukocytes, or white blood cells. Over-the-counter or prescription anti-inflammatory medications may help control specific symptoms of these diseases and return the blood cell count to a normal level.

Allergic reactions to foods, medications, or environmental pollutants may lead to an increase in the number of white blood cells produced by the body. Some autoimmune diseases may cause this response as well as the body attempts to return to a normal state of being. Corticosteroid drugs and other medications have also been shown to cause leukocytosis in some people.

Chronic stress is one of the most overlooked causes of leukocytosis and can usually be treated successfully by lifestyle modification, counseling, or the use of prescription or herbal medications. Some forms of cancer, particularly blood cancers such as lymphoma or leukemia, are potential causes and require aggressive medical treatment. Other diseases, such as ulcerative colitis, heart disease, and sickle cell anemia, may lead to an elevated white blood cell count as well. As some of the causes of leukocytosis can be life threatening, it is important to visit a doctor for an accurate diagnosis so that the appropriate treatment can be developed and begun as soon as possible.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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