Leukopenia is a shortage of white blood cells in the system, which can be caused by anemia, menorrhagia, etc. In addition, the blood cell count can dip due to infection or because white blood cell production has been inhibited.
A low white blood cell count, or leukopenia will have a direct effect on your body's immune system. White blood cells are used to fight off infections within the blood stream. Without an adequate number of white blood cells your body will have trouble ridding itself of bacteria or viral matter which can cause disease. Many conditions can lead to leukopenia, so you will need to test other symptoms to remove underlying causes of this condition to treat leukopenia adequately.
What is Leukopenia?
Leukopenia is the medical term for a low count of white blood cells in the blood stream. Doctors debate how many white blood cells should be in the system at any given time, but it is generally believed that you should not have less than 3500 white blood cells in every microliter of blood. This may vary between sexes or in different age groups. In many cases, a low white blood cell count is a symptom for other medical issues that will need to be addressed before your white blood cell count can return to normal.
Causes of Leukopenia
White blood cells are produced in the bone marrow. Any disease or condition that disrupts the production or function of bone marrow will cause the body to develop leukopenia. Viral infections will often cause the body to slow bone marrow function. Viral infections can also lower the white blood cell count as the cells die off fighting the infection. Autoimmune disorders or infections that kill off cells faster than they can be produced will intensify this reaction. Congenital disorders or cancerous growths can also cause the body to slow its bone marrow function.
Some medical treatments can temporarily deplete the body of white blood cells. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, antibiotics or diuretics can kill off white blood cells as the medications target fast growing tissues throughout the body. Similarly, if you are experiencing anemia or a vitamin deficiency your body may not have the nutrients it needs to build an adequate supply of healthy white blood cells. This can lead to leukopenia or your white blood cells dying off prematurely.
Diseases that cause harm to the immune system can cause harm to the white blood cells, leading to leukopenia. Common offenders include HIV/AIDS, hyperthyroidism, kostmann's syndrome, leukemia, lupus, myelodysplastic syndromes, parasitic diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, myelokathexis, or myelofibrosis. Patients may also have developed hypersplenism, a condition that causes the spleen to become overactive and prematurely destroy white blood cells. Your doctor will perform examinations to determine which of these diseases is the most likely cause of your leukopenia.
Symptoms of Leukopenia
Your doctor will need to perform a blood test to determine if you have a low white blood cell count. Other side effects can help you determine if this test is necessary, and how severe your condition might be. Mild leukopenia is often temporary and will cease as your other symptoms lessen. If your symptoms are severe then you may need to seek treatment for your leukopenia to prevent a potential life threatening condition from developing.
Anemia is a common symptom of leukopenia. This is an indicator that the red blood cell count is dipping in addition to the white blood cell count. Patients suffering from anemia may become tired easily, experience a pounding heartbeat and shortness of breath after exercise. They may have difficulty concentrating and become dizzy easily. Pale skin, leg cramps and insomnia are also common indicators that the patient is suffering from anemia.
Menorrhagia. Women suffering from leukopenia may suffer from menorrhagia, or an abnormally heavy menstrual period. Their periods may last longer than they usually would as well. Women may also experience metrorrhagia, or bleeding from the uterus that is not caused by menstruation. Women suffering from metrorrhagia should seek medical attention right away as this can be a sign that they have a serious infection or cancer.
Others. Patients with a low white blood cell account will commonly show signs of fatigue which can be couples with irritability or hot flashes. They may frequently develop headaches or mood swings as well. Because the immune system is damaged the patient is more likely to develop inflammation in the mouth. This may occur around the cheeks, lips, tongue cheeks, tonsils, etc. Patients may also develop inflammation of the stomach lining as the natural bacteria in the system grows at an unchecked rate. These conditions may cause the patient to crave hot beverages. Patients must watch infections carefully as they are at a much higher rate to develop ulcers or pneumonia during this dip in their infection.
Treatments for Leukopenia
Leukopenia is treated by stimulating the bone marrow so additional white blood cells can be produced. Steroids can be used to stimulate the bone marrow, as can cytokine or chemotherapy. Eastern medication often prescribed DangGui Bu Xue, a method of tonifying the blood. These may be combined with tangkuei or Tan kuei to assist in the production of blood cells and eliminating toxins in the blood which can be impacting the white blood cells. Patients will often be given multivitamins which contain copper and zinc to ensure that the body has enough nutrients to produce healthy blood cells.
In addition to helping your body grow new white blood cells, the patient will usually be put on medication that can be used to eliminate any infectious diseases that are putting stress on the immune system. This will allow the new white blood cells to flourish. Medication needed for this treatment will vary based on the nature of the infection.