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What is Leukopenia?

By Tina Samuels
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Leukopenia, also known as leucopenia or leukocytopenia, is when the blood has an abnormally low amount of white blood cells, or leukocytes. It is from the greek words that mean "white" and "deficiency." When there is a lowered amount of white blood cells in the blood, there is a higher risk of contracting an infection.

When there is a low amount of platelets in the blood, it is called thrombocytopenia. Thrombocytopenia can be seen in leukopenia cases and will need to be treated with steroids, vitamins, and immunosuppressants. Having this condition doesn't always mean a patient will also have thrombocytopenia, however.

Leukopenia can be caused by medications, cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation, immune lowering diseases such as HIV, and even influenza. Other causes are mineral deficiencies like copper and zinc, sepsis, and aplastic anemia. Medications that can typically lower white blood cells are antipsychotic drugs, immunosuppressive drugs, interferons, and some antidepressants.

The symptoms only start to show once there is a severe case; mild cases don't usually have symptoms. They include anemia, pneumonia, liver abscess, and mouth inflammation. There are also signs of headache, fever, cravings for hot drinks, and irritability. For women, their periods may last longer and be heavier, and they may suffer from hot flashes.

A diagnosis can be made with a simple blood draw. This blood test is called a complete blood count (CBC) and will measure the amount of white blood cells in the blood. This is typically the only way to tell if someone has an abnormally low amount.

Treatment for leukopenia begins with vitamins and steroids. This will stimulate the marrow to make more leukocytes. While suffering from leukopenia and going through the treatments, the patient is at a higher risk for infections, cancer, and AIDS due to suppressed immunity.

While having a low white blood cell count is not fatal in itself, it can lead to death if the patient catches an infection his body cannot fight. Lowered white blood cell counts can open the patient up to be a host to various parasitic diseases. The body, while fatigued and its immune system compromised, is in a fragile state.

Having regular CBC tests run as part of a yearly physical exam is a good way to monitor any issues with blood cell counts. This test can help see problems before they get out of control and before any additional conditions are present. CBC tests should be a standard part of any regular physical checkup.

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Discussion Comments
By anon954196 — On May 30, 2014

My oncologist had me tested for this, among other things, and what's sad about this is the fact he never once has gone over anything with me. I had to find out on my own a year later, after I went to a different oncologist.

The first one was so bad that, even after my complaining for a year about all the knots I had on the side of my breast, he still never took the time to even look at them, not even once. He just walked out of the room.

The doctor I have now got things rolling right away just as soon as he first saw how bad they were. It turned out I had breast cancer. I ended up having surgery and part of my breast removed and I then had to take 37 weeks of radiation, so I say the first thing is make sure you have a doctor who takes an interest in you and wants to help you before it's too late.

By sweetPeas — On Oct 06, 2011

It looks like there are many possible causes for leukopenia. And there are many symptoms that are the same symptoms for other illnesses.

That makes it really hard to figure out. So the best thing to do if you have any kind of unusual symptom, is to go to the doctor. He will probably give you a blood test, which will tell you if you have leukopenia.

As the article says, it's a good idea to have your blood tested at your yearly physical to check to see if you have this condition.

By live2shop — On Oct 05, 2011

A few months ago, a baby was born to the daughter of a friend of mine. The baby was born with a low white blood cell count. She spent several weeks in the hospital while they tried to get her white blood count up to where it should be.

It would creep up a little and then go down again. This was very difficult for her family. The staff had to be careful to keep any risk of infection away.

Finally, her cell count was high enough that she could go home. That was a happy day.

I'm not sure what caused the condition or how it was treated, but it worked. She is almost up to the normal white cell level.

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