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You may have heard of white blood cells, but do you know about neutrophils? They are a type of white blood cell responsible for fighting infections, particularly those caused by bacteria. Neutrophils are produced in bone marrow and found in the bloodstream. The medical term linked to a low count of neutrophils is neutropenia. Continue reading to learn about symptoms, causes, and treatment of neutropenia. If you have neutropenia, you might have an underlying illness that needs medical attention.

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Symptoms of Neutropenia

Unfortunately, neutropenia doesn’t reveal many of its symptoms. Instead, this particular condition comes up in blood tests done for other reasons. However, some traits to check for include skin abscesses, ulcers, rashes, mouth sores, swollen gums, or pneumonia. Another sign of neutropenia is a wound that takes abnormally long to heal.

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Symptoms Continued

Another common sign of neutropenia is a fever. When infections develop within the body, temperatures typically occur. Neutropenia fevers are often the result of gut bacteria that travels into the bloodstream. Even if the source of infection is unknown, antibiotics should be taken to treat the fever. With a weakened immune system, it will be easier for illness and diseases to develop.

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Cause: Infections

Neutropenia can cause infections, but the same can happen in reverse. Infections can cause neutropenia because the body is using neutrophils to fight the infection faster than the bone marrow can produce. Infections that commonly lead to neutropenia include tuberculosis, dengue fever, HIV, malaria, Lyme’s disease, Epstein-Barr virus, and viral hepatitis.

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Cause: Autoimmune Disease

Autoimmune diseases occur when the body attacks its healthy cells. When this happens, it targets and destroys neutrophil cells faster than the body can produce them. Autoimmune diseases linked to neutropenia include Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus. The cause of autoimmune diseases is unknown, but the odds are higher in females that are African-American, Hispanic-Americans, and Native-Americans, or if you have a family history.

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Cause: Vitamin Deficiencies

Vitamin deficiencies, such as Vitamin B-12, can lead to neutropenia. B-12 is an essential vitamin for healthy blood and can be eaten through fish and poultry. As a result, B-12 deficiencies are common in those who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet. If you are on one of these diets, it is recommended to add a B-12 supplement to your daily routine.

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Cause: Chemotherapy

The most common cause of neutropenia is chemotherapy, a treatment used for patients with cancer. Chemotherapy’s primary objective is to destroy fast dividing cells, as cancer cells grow and divide quickly. However, along the way, chemotherapy can also target healthy cells, such as hair and bone marrow. When the body is fighting off cancer and chemo is weakening the function of bone marrow, it can lead to neutropenia. Approximately half of all people going through chemotherapy will develop neutropenia.

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Levels of Neutrophils

The necessary count of neutrophils ranges based on age and race. Both African Americans and children have lower numbers of neutrophils than adults or Caucasians and Asians. However, for adults, the level should be above 1,500 cells/mm3. The risk for infections does not increase until neutrophil count drops below 1,000 cells/mm3.

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Diagnosing Neutropenia

If the doctor believes you may have neutropenia, he/she will require a blood test, which will provide a complete blood count. Another option for diagnosing neutropenia is a bone marrow examination. During that procedure, a biopsy, or sample, of bone marrow is collected. Bone marrow examinations are an excellent way for the doctor to view the bone marrow and blood cells in detail.

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Treatment: Medication

You and your medical provider will develop an appropriate treatment plan based on the cause of neutropenia. However, a few treatment options include antibiotics to relieve fever or granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF) to stimulate bone marrow function. You might have to change medications if neutropenia is a result of your prescriptions. A different option is a granulocyte transfusion, which is a transfusion of white blood cells. In severe cases, a stem cell transplant may be recommended.

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Preventing Infection

As a result of neutropenia, it is very easy for the body to become infected. To prevent infection, it is important to have good hygiene, which includes washing hands, brushing teeth, and flossing frequently. You should always wear shoes outdoors and keep scrapes clean and covered. Avoid hot tubs, ponds, and rivers, as they can carry bacteria leading to infections. It’s also best to use an electric shaver instead of a razor.

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Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.