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What Factors Affect Monocyte Levels?

By H. Colledge
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Monocytes are white blood cells in the immune system. As part of the body's immune function, monocytes help get rid of harmful substances, dead cells and cancer cells. This means that infections and cancers tend to raise blood monocyte levels. Certain blood disorders, genetic disorders and autoimmune diseases are also associated with increased monocyte levels. A person's monocytes count can also fall, and this can be caused by the use of steroid drugs, chemotherapy treatments or toxins produced by some bacteria.

Levels of monocytes may be measured as part of a test known as a white blood cell differential count. This calculates the percentages of the different kinds of white cell in a blood sample. Monocytes normally represent around five to ten percent of the total white cell count.

Along with other blood cells, monocytes are formed in bone marrow, so disorders which damage bone marrow, such as cancer, can cause low levels of monocytes. Normally, monocytes travel in the bloodstream to different parts of the body where they develop into phagocytic cells called dendritic cells and macrophages. Phagocytic cells are scavengers, able to consume and destroy harmful particles such as bacteria and waste matter such as dead cells. This is why levels of monocytes are elevated in response to infection and inflammation -- so they can remove microbes and dead cells from tissues. Tuberculosis and syphilis are two examples of bacterial diseases which cause raised monocyte levels, and viruses such as measles and mumps can have a similar effect.

Malignant conditions such as leukemia or lung cancer can lead to increased monocyte levels, along with raised levels of other types of white blood cells. In leukemia, the bone marrow becomes cancerous and begins to produce large numbers of monocytes. Autoimmune conditions, where the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's own tissues, are also associated with increased monocyte levels. Such conditions include rheumatoid arthritis, which affects the joints, and inflammatory bowel disease.

Certain bacteria, such as E.coli, produce particles known as endotoxins. Endotoxins can cause endotoxic shock, a potentially fatal condition in which low blood pressure, organ failure and hemorrhages occur. The condition is also associated with decreased levels of monocytes and other white cells.

For patients who have an abnormally high monocyte count, management usually involves treating the underlying cause. Low numbers of monocytes and other white cells can sometimes leave patients vulnerable to infections. It may be necessary to stop any drugs causing the problem. Medications are also available that can increase white cell levels.

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Discussion Comments
By StarJo — On Sep 26, 2012

@feasting – Having low monocyte levels is dangerous and scary. My friend had hyperthyroidism, and the drugs she had to take for this condition lowered her white blood cell count to a dangerous level.

When she was first diagnosed with an overactive thyroid, she had been suffering from anxiety, shaky hands, and the inability to sleep. Her doctor put her on antithyroid drugs, and he didn't really expect it to lower her monocyte levels.

However, this is a rare reaction that some people have to this kind of drug. Luckily, they caught it before she suffered any dangerous infections.

By DylanB — On Sep 26, 2012

If I get some sort of infection, the glands under my neck swell up. I've been told that they are filled with white blood cells, and they are swelled because my body knows that it needs a lot of them to fight the infection.

Unless I have a fever, I usually just ignore the swollen glands until the sickness subsides and they go back down to normal size. However, when fever is involved, I get worried and go to my doctor.

If the sickness is viral, there is nothing my doctor can do. However, if I have a bacterial infection, I need antibiotics to assist my white blood cells in fighting the bacteria.

By cloudel — On Sep 25, 2012

I know a girl who has lupus. Her immune system attacks her own body, so her monocyte levels are through the roof.

It's terrible that a person's body can turn on itself like this. The things that ordinarily work to our advantage when we are sick become the enemy, and they flood the body like troops going to war.

By feasting — On Sep 24, 2012

People who receive bone marrow transplants have low monocyte levels for awhile. That's why they have to avoid things and people that could carry infection until everything returns to normal.

My neighbor had a bone marrow transplant, and he couldn't go out in public or have visitors for 100 days after the procedure. We offered to take care of his dogs, because he couldn't have any contact with them, either.

White blood cells are so important to our immune systems, and we never really think about them until they start to decline. I know that my neighbor was thrilled once his monocyte count returned to normal.

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