What Is Leukopenia?
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Leukopenia - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Published on Nov 24, 2022   -  4 min read


The condition of leukopenia or low white blood cell count occurs when the body lacks disease-fighting leukocytes. Read on to know more about it.

What Is Leukopenia?

Leukopenia, also known as low white blood cell count, is characterized by a decrease in disease-fighting cells (leukocytes) in the blood. Leukopenia is almost always associated with a reduction in a specific type of white blood cell (neutrophil). White blood cells (WBC), which are essential for the immune system, are produced in the bone marrow. They assist the body in fighting diseases and infections. A person with insufficient leukocytes is more susceptible to infections and diseases.

Leukopenia can signify several health problems, including serious infections, diseases, and cancer. Leukopenia can affect one or more types of white blood cells and can cause neutropenia (occurs when there are insufficient neutrophils, a type of white blood cell), monocytopenia (a type of leukocytopenia caused by a monocyte deficiency), and other symptoms.

What Are the Causes of Leukopenia?

Leukopenia can be caused by health problems that destroy leukocytes or reduce leukocyte production. The following are some of the most common causes of leukopenia:

  • Medications, particularly immunosuppressants and cancer treatments.

  • Bone marrow disorders, including cancer of the bone marrow.

  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or AIDS are examples of infection that consumes or attacks white blood cells.

  • Malnutrition.

As a side effect, many medications can cause leukopenia. Chemotherapy medications, for example, may aggravate (worsen) leukopenia in cancer patients. Immunosuppressive medications can also cause leukopenia. In addition, many other over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications can also cause leukopenia. However, not everyone who takes these medications develops leukopenia. Phenothiazine, Aminopyrine, Chloramphenicol, and Sulfonamides are among the medications that can cause neutropenia. Medication-induced leukopenia should resolve quickly after the medication is stopped, but other measures may be required if the resolution takes too long.

Sarcoidosis is a systemic illness caused by an overactive immune system. It is distinguished by the formation of granulomas, or small areas of inflammation, in various systems throughout the body. Leukopenia can occur when these granulomas form in the bone marrow.

What Are the Symptoms of Leukopenia?

Leukopenia may not be accompanied by any symptoms. On the other hand, the underlying conditions that can cause leukopenia can be severe. Furthermore, a lack of leukocytes can cause medical problems to worsen and infections to cause significant harm to the body. The following are symptoms of conditions associated with leukopenia:

The success of some infections depends on their ability to resolve on their own, while persistent leukopenia (specifically, neutropenia) can permit infections to recur and become more severe, requiring treatment. In addition, other underlying conditions, such as cancer, can lead to potentially fatal outcomes.

What Is the Diagnosis of Leukopenia?

  • Medical History: To diagnose leukopenia, the physician will perform a physical exam and take a medical history. They may ask about the type of symptoms experienced, when they began, personal or family history of other health conditions, such as autoimmune disorders or blood or bone marrow cancers, type of medications taken, and lifestyle habits.

  • Complete Blood Count: One of the tests used to help diagnose leukopenia is a complete blood count (CBC). This test will determine how many WBCs (white blood count), red blood cells, and platelets are present in the blood. If the WBC count is low, the doctor will order additional tests to help determine the root cause of the condition. A few includes:

  • Cultures of an affected area look for a bacterial or fungal test for viral infections such as HIV or viral hepatitis.

  • Blood tests for autoimmune conditions may include inflammation tests such as C-reactive protein or erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) and autoantibody tests such as rheumatoid factor or antinuclear antibody (ANA).

  • Bone marrow tests can be obtained through aspiration, biopsy, or both.

How to Treat Leukopenia?

The treatment options will differ depending on the cause of your leukopenia. Treatment options include:

  • Discontinuation of a Few Treatments- Treatments that cause low white blood cell counts, such as chemotherapy or radiation, should be discontinued.

  • Growth Factor Therapy- It is a treatment derived from bone marrow that can stimulate the production of white blood cells.

  • Low-bacterial Diet- It reduces exposure to bacteria found in certain foods, such as raw, unwashed produce or undercooked meat.

  • Medications - Therapy that stimulates the body's production of blood cells or combats the infection that is causing low white blood cell counts.

What Are the Complications of Leukopenia?

Leukopenia involves low infection-fighting immune cells, which can lead to potentially serious complications if left untreated. Some of the complications of leukopenia are as follows:

  • Being forced to postpone cancer treatment due to a minor infection.

  • Life-threatening infections, such as septicemia, a severe bloodstream infection.

  • A blood infection such as sepsis is a potentially fatal response by the body.

  • Recurring or protracted infections.

  • Premature death.

How to Avoid Infections in Leukopenia?

The following home treatments and behaviors may assist a person suffering from leukopenia in improving their condition and lowering their risk of infection:

  • Consuming a nutritious diet.

  • Getting enough rest to avoid cuts, scrapes, and skin damage.

  • Practicing good hygiene to avoid germs.

  • Maintaining good health.

  • Washing hands.

  • Avoid even the smallest cuts or scrapes.

  • Cook foods to their safe minimum cooking temperature at all times.


A low white blood cell count characterizes leukopenia. Neutropenia, or low neutrophil levels, is the most common type of leukopenia. Although leukopenia has no symptoms, it makes a person more susceptible to infections. However, individuals may not realize they have leukopenia until they develop infection symptoms such as fever or chills. Leukopenia can be caused by several conditions, including certain types of cancer, infectious diseases, and autoimmune diseases. In addition, a variety of medical conditions and medications can cause leukopenia.

The underlying cause will determine treatment. Low WBC (white blood cells) counts make people vulnerable to infection, so they should take precautions against infection while suffering from leukopenia. Individuals can reduce their risk of infection by making dietary and lifestyle changes.

Frequently Asked Questions


How Severe Is Leukopenia?

If left untreated, leukopenia can result in many potentially severe complications due to the low levels of immune cells that fight infections. One such complication of leukopenia involves delaying the cancer treatment procedure because of a mild infection.


Is Leukopenia Curable?

The cause of leukopenia will determine the treatment options. Some treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation, include stopping treatment that results in low white blood cell counts. Growth factor therapy is a treatment that can increase the production of white blood cells and is derived from bone marrow.


Does Leukopenia Cause Leukemia?

No, leukopenia does not cause leukemia. Instead, it is the other way around. Leukemia may result in leukopenia. All blood cells, including white blood cells, are affected by leukemia. Blood cells are made in the bone marrow.


When to Worry About Leukopenia?

Drug-induced agranulocytosis, acute infections, or acute leukemia should be checked for in acute leukopenia. A primary bone marrow disorder or chronic infection diagnosis should be made for leukopenia that develops over several weeks or months.


Does Leukopenia Cause Tiredness?

Although severe leukopenia frequently presents with nonspecific symptoms such as fatigue and illness, the signs and symptoms of leukopenia are primarily those connected to the possibility of infections.


What Would Happen if Leukopenia Is Left Untreated?

If left untreated, leukopenia can result in several potentially severe complications due to the low levels of immune cells that fight infections. The following are some of the complications of leukopenia:
- Requiring treatment for cancer to be postponed due to a minor infection.
- A life-threatening condition, including septicemia, which is a severe blood infection.
- A life-threatening reaction by the body to a blood infection is called sepsis.
- Chronic or recurrent infections.
- Premature death.


When Does Leukopenia Develop?

When WBC levels in the blood are lower than normal, this condition is known as leukopenia. Individuals with leukopenia are at an increased risk for diseases. People with leukopenia may not realize they have it until they experience infection symptoms like fever or chills.


What Medications Cause Leukopenia?

Leukopenia may result from some drugs. The following medications may cause leukopenia-
- Sodium valproate and Lamotrigine are both antiepileptic agents.
- Clozapine is an antipsychotic medication.
- Immunosuppressive drugs, such as Sirolimus, Tacrolimus, Mycophenolate mofetil, and Cyclosporine used in transplant patients.
- Interferons are used in the treatment of multiple sclerosis.
- The antidepressant and smoking addiction treatment medication called Bupropion and antibiotics Minocycline and Penicillin may also lead to leukopenia.


What Foods Are Recommended for Leukopenia?

Zinc helps the body produce more white blood cells and makes the ones it already has more aggressive, making it one of the best foods for increasing white blood cells. Beef, oysters, crab, and turkey meat are all sources of zinc. Additionally, zinc can be found in fortified beans and cereals.


Which Bacterial Infection Results in Leukopenia?

Bacterial infections that can result in leukopenia include typhoid and tuberculosis. Leukopenia may also be caused due to other infectious diseases, such as HIV-AIDS, hepatitis, and malaria.


Does White Blood Cells Become Low When Fighting an Infection?

The white blood cell count of a sick person is higher than usual. This is because, to fight the infection, the body releases more of these cells. However, their white blood cell count may fall to deficient levels if they have certain diseases like cancer or HIV.


Which White Blood Cells Fight Infection?

The body's immune system relies on white blood cells to fight infections. The neutrophil is an essential type of white blood cell. These cells are produced in the bone marrow and circulate through the blood. They detect infections, accumulate at infection sites, and eradicate pathogens.


Which Is the Most Common Leukocyte in the Human Body?

In a blood smear, neutrophils are the most prevalent type of white blood cell. They account for between 60 to 70 percent of all white blood cells.


Is It Serious to Have a Low White Blood Cell Count?

Severe neutropenia occurs when the neutrophil count (the most common type of white blood cell) is meager, less than 500 neutrophils per microliter of blood. Even the normal bacteria in a person's mouth, skin, and gut can cause serious infections when the neutrophil count drops to this low.

Last reviewed at:
24 Nov 2022  -  4 min read




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