White blood cells are cells that protect the body from various infections. Lack of white blood cells or leukopenia will make the body susceptible to infection. In addition, there are also other effects that can occur, depending on the type of white blood cell whose number is reduced.
Normally, the white blood cell count in adults is about 3,500-11,000 cells per microliter of blood. A person is said to be leukopenia if the white blood cell count is less than 3,500 cells per microliter of blood.
There are various things that can cause a person to experience a white blood cell deficiency, including:
- Disorders of the blood cells and bone marrow, such as aplastic anemia.
- An inherited disorder that causes the bone marrow to not produce white blood cells, as in congenital neutropenia.
- Cancer and therapies for cancer, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
- Viral or bacterial infections, such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.
- Use of certain drugs, such as antiviral drugs, antibiotics, and steroids.
- Autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
- Malnutrition, such as deficiency of vitamin B12, folate, and zinc.
Lack of White Blood Cells by Type
There are several types of white blood cells. That is why, the impact of a shortage of white blood cells can be different, depending on the type of white blood cells that are reduced in number. Here is the explanation:
Neutrophil deficiency or neutropenia
Neutrophils are the most abundant type of white blood cell in the body, accounting for 55-70% of the total number of white blood cells.
Neutrophil deficiency (neutropenia) can occur suddenly or slowly. Neutropenia has no typical symptoms, and is usually only detected when a blood test is performed.
Lack of basophils
The normal basophil count is about 0.5-1% of the white blood cell count. Lack of basophils can cause severe allergic reactions and make infectious diseases difficult to cure.
Lymphocytes are also a type of white blood cell. Normally, the lymphocyte count is about 20-40% of the total white blood cell count. Some of the lymphocytes produced by the bone marrow will flow into the blood circulation and some will enter the lymphatic system.
Lack of lymphocytes is also known as lymphocytopenia. Less severe lymphocyte deficiency usually only causes harmless flu symptoms. But in some people, a lack of lymphocytes can increase the risk of developing other infections.
Handling White Blood Cell Deficiency
Leukopenia or white blood cell deficiency often does not cause obvious symptoms and is only known after a complete blood count. Therefore, check with your doctor if you have any of the risk factors listed above, or if you find yourself getting sick more easily.
If detected early, leukopenia can be treated immediately before it causes a more severe disorder. Management of leukopenia will be tailored to the conditions and causes.
For example, if the leukopenia is caused by a bacterial infection, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection. If the cause is the use of certain drugs or therapies, the doctor may consider changing the type of medication or lowering the dose of the drug.