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What Causes a High Monocyte Count?

By Glyn Sinclair
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Monocytes are white blood cells that are common to the blood of all vertebrates and they help the immune system to function properly. There are a number of reasons for a high monocyte count, which can also be called monocytosis. Some of the reasons can include stress, viral fevers, inflammation and organ necrosis. Compromised blood supply and injuries are both potential reasons for necrosis of organ cells. Infection can be another cause for a high monocyte count.

A physician may order a monocyte blood count test to check for raised levels of monocytes. There are a number of reasons for this test, from a simple health check up to people suffering from heart attacks and leukemia. Complications with the blood and cancer are two other reasons that this test may be performed. Blood is typically drawn from a vein in the arm and the results are usually available a few days later. The test may be timed during a period of fasting so that food or liquid does not interfere with the results.

Red cells are typically more numerous in the blood than white cells but the white cells may increase when there is an infection present in the body. This occurs because the white cells travel to the area of infection to eradicate it. The cells achieve this by producing antibodies that “eat” the bacteria that is damaging the body, and even though large numbers of the white cells may be killed off, some of them usually remain to combat the infection if it returns.

There are a number of different types of white blood cells. These can include lymphocytes, macrophages, neutrophils and basophils. A high monocyte count tends to point towards the presence of a bacterial infection, whereas a raised neutrophil level can also be an indication of infection, as well as arthritis and physical stress after invasive procedures such as heart surgery. People with lower white cell counts tend to have compromised immune systems and may be more susceptible to catching colds.

A high monocyte count in itself does not fully inform a physician of the actual underlying problem. There are a number of diseases that may cause this condition to occur. Some of these can include mononucleosis, malaria and tuberculosis. A physician will use the information gathered from the blood count as a tool in conjunction with a physical examination and the patient’s medical history to ascertain the reason for raised levels of monocytes.

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Discussion Comments

By anon994793 — On Mar 07, 2016

I have very high absolute monocytes, and my legs are painful and purple like purpura that bleed. I have been to numerous doctors, but no answers. Any suggestions?

By anon993640 — On Nov 30, 2015

My son's monocytes will be high when he has a fever once a week. This situation has lasted 7 months, and a lot of tests have been taken. The diseases you mentioned like mononucleosis, malaria and tuberculosis are excluded. Examinations including blood culture, B ultrasound of heart, pelvic and stomach, MRI scans, CT scans on brain, X-rays on lungs, bone marrow aspiration, show no abnormal. ALT and AST will be high when he has a fever. What do you think? Thanks.

By fritzallen — On Jan 16, 2015

My absolute monocytes have been high for a couple of years -- around 2080. Is this a problem?

By lluviaporos — On Jul 22, 2012

@KoiwiGal - It's true that most modern people who have monocytosis will turn out to have had high stress levels rather than a more serious condition, but if they are at the point where they are getting their blood tested, presumably it's because the doctor thinks they have signs of some other problem.

I have heard of people getting results back for something else with the lab indicating that they have raised white blood cell levels and that's how they found out they had a particular condition, but it's not something that a doctor is going to test for if all the indicators are that the patient just works too hard.

By KoiwiGal — On Jul 21, 2012

Don't worry too much if it turns out that you have increased numbers of monocytes. Even though people tend to let their minds go to the most serious possible scenario, it's more likely that you've got a simple bacterial infection, or even just a lot of stress on your body, than that you've got something like leukemia.

When we throw the word stress around, we don't always use it to describe the kind of state that can bring on a high monocyte count, but being very stressed, to the point where you trigger the fight or flight response, can have a very physical effect on your body. This can be caused by all sorts of things, including major life events like divorce or a death in the family, or even by constant stress at work.

If you've got to the point, though, where there are physical indicators, where you even feel like you need to get your blood tested, then you need to make sure your life is going the way it should. Life isn't meant to be that hard.

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