White blood cell deficiencies can be caused as a result of certain health conditions. A type of white blood cell, known as granulocyte, can help fight many infections. Neutropenia and Agranulocytosis are terms usually used to describe white blood cell deficiencies.
Still, the 2 terms should not be used interchangeably, because they describe slightly dissimilar conditions:
- Neutropenia – refers to the process when the bone marrow (a soft tissue inside bone) fails to create enough of neutrophils, a specific group of granulocytes, and
- Agranulocytosis – refers to the process when the bone marrow fails to create enough granulocytes.
Even though these conditions are little different, they have a tendency to share many related causes and symptoms and are usually treated in a similar way.
What is White Blood Cell Count?
White blood cells are created in the bone marrow and naturally, work as part of the immune system to fight off viral and bacterial infections. A “regular” white blood cell count is usually considered amid 4,500 – 10,000 WBCs (white blood cells) per microliter of blood. People who have 3,500 or lesser are considered to have neutropenia (a low WBC), but not every time – it depends on the doctor, the patient, and or course, the situation. A WBC below 1,000 is usually considered too low and a sign of a severe infection risk.
What Causes Neutropenia and Agranulocytosis?
Neutropenia and agranulocytosis generally appear later in life, as the result of some other condition or treatment (attained), but could sometimes be even present from birth (congenital).
Depending on the reason, your white blood cell count may improve over time. But, in certain cases, the issue can be persistent.
Acquired neutropenia and agranulocytosis
The most common causes of acquired neutropenia and agranulocytosis are:
- Bone marrow transplant (or preparation for this process) or chemotherapy;
- Certain medications – including medicines for hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland) and some antipsychotics;
- An autoimmune disorder (where the immune system inaccurately attacks its own tissues) – such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus;
- A bone marrow disease – such as leukemia or myelodysplasia (a condition where blood cells don’t develop appropriately), and
- Certain infections – including hepatitis and HIV
Congenital Neutropenia and Agranulocytosis
Congenital neutropenia or agranulocytosis can be caused by some rare genetic faults (altered genes) that can be passed on to a baby by one or both of the parents.
People of Afro-Caribbean descent usually have a naturally slightly lower neutrophil count than people of other ethnic origins. However, this is completely normal and doesn’t lead to any health issues.
White Blood Cell Deficiencies Signs and Symptoms
Most people with white blood cell deficiencies will not have any obvious symptoms. Yet, these ailments might mean you are more vulnerable to getting some infection because you do not have enough white blood cells to combat germs successfully.
Symptoms linked with an infection may include:
- Chills and shivering
- Fever (a high temperature)
- Facial flushing
- A sore throat or mouth
- A lack of energy
- Flu-like symptoms
- Swollen glands
In some individuals, infections could spread quickly through the body and may lead to a life-threatening condition known as sepsis. Besides of the above symptoms, sepsis could also cause a fast breathing and fast heartbeat.
When to Visit Your Doctor
Most people at risk of neutropenia or agranulocytosis should already be aware of symptoms to look out for, and will have been advised what to do if they have them.
If you know you are at risk of white blood cell deficiencies and you begin to feel unwell – you must contact your GP or care team immediately.
Sepsis is a condition that requires an immediate medical emergency.
Medical Treatment for White Blood Cell Deficiencies (Neutropenia and Agranulocytosis)
If your GP suspects you have neutropenia or agranulocytosis, they will take a blood test in order to check the levels of white blood cells in the patient’s blood.
If one of these ailments is diagnosed, the advice and the treatment offered to you will depend on the cause and how serious is your condition. The treatment usually involves:
Reducing the infection risk
You will be given advice how to reduce your risk of infections while your WBC count is low, which may include:
- Avoiding close contact with individuals that have an infection
- Avoiding undercooked and certain raw foods that can lead to food poisoning.
- Making sure you prepare and store your food properly
- Maintain good personal hygiene – as washing the hands with warm water and soap regularly.
Antibiotics –because your body won’t be able to combat the infection itself.
G-CSF injections – the treatment of some individuals may require injections of a medication known as G-CSF to stimulate the bone marrow in order to produce white blood cells.
Granulocyte infusions – a sort of blood transfusion when the patient is only given granulocyte cells.
Bone marrow transplant – in specific serious cases a stem cell transplant is needed in order to replace the damaged bone marrow with vigorous bone marrow stem cells from a donor.
Natural Treatment for White Blood Cell Deficiencies
Although a medical treatment and medications are required in order to improve white blood cell count in severe cases, there are also some effective natural methods you can use, such as:
Zinc is truly helpful for treating the earliest symptoms of a cold coming on. This mineral is a proven immune booster and associated with the production of white blood cells. Research have found that even a mild zinc deficiency could increase the risk of infection. According to the American Cancer Society, the levels of zinc in the blood or/and inside white blood cells were frequently lower in patients with neck and head cancer or childhood leukemia. Eat more foods rich in zinc, including lamb, oysters, wheat germ, spinach, and beef.
According to an animal study from 2002, rats that ate garlic showed a significant improvement in complete white blood cell count, promoting the ability of white blood cells to combat infections and stimulating other immune cells, too.
- Folic Acid
Our bodies need folic acid to produce white blood cells. Actually, some of the greatest side effects of increased intake of folic acid is an upsurge in white blood cells. A folic acid deficiency can also easily lead to anemia that is a low level of red blood cells. Therefore, if you are low on each – increase the intake of folic acid. You should eat more spinach, beans, and citrus fruits.
- Greek yogurt
Many studies have proven that people taking probiotics have stronger immune systems than individuals who don’t take them. The probiotics can also boost the production of white blood cells. According to a German research, published in the Clinical Nutrition, people who had their blood count measured showed upper white blood cell counts, specifying a stronger immune system.
The University of Maryland Medical Center suggests that selenium can aid build up WBC. Many researchers also point out that selenium can help prevent certain infections. Another study shows that when the older people take both selenium and zinc supplements, their immune systems reacted better to the flu vaccine than participants who took a placebo.
White blood cell deficiencies are usually found when your GP orders test for a condition you are already having. It is rarely an unpredicted finding or just discovered by chance. Talk to your GP about what your test results mean. A white blood cell deficiency, together with results from other tests, may already indicate the cause of the condition. Or your GP may suggest some other tests to more check your condition.
In some cases, simply medications along with natural treatment can be helpful. But, in serious cases, a further medical attention is required. Always wash your hands thoroughly and regularly. You may also be recommended to wear a face mask and avoid people with a cold or some other illness.