What Are the Symptoms of Low White Blood Cell Count?

Reviewed on 4/23/2021

White blood cells are an important constituent of blood that help the body fight any infection.
White blood cells are an important constituent of blood that help the body fight any infection.

White blood cells are an important constituent of blood that help the body fight any infection. Most of them are formed in the spongy center of your bones known as the bone marrow. Having low white blood cell count means your body may not be able to deal with any infection and get rid of it as quickly as it could have with normal white blood cell count.

A low white blood cell count is medically known as leukopenia. The normal range of the white blood cells is 5,000-11,000 per microliter of blood. If it goes below 4,000, the condition is termed as leukopenia. Depending on which type of white blood cell is affected, your doctor may use terms such as lymphopenia and neutropenia.

Leukopenia is not a disorder but a finding or sign in a routine blood test known as a complete blood count (CBC). Usually, the test is performed during fever or any other illness. It is also a part of a normal health checkup.

A low white blood cell count may often not cause any signs and symptoms. If it does, there may be

Fever (higher than 100.5°F)

Chills

Sweating

Remember, not all fever, chills and sweating are associated with a low white blood cell count. Your doctor will ask you to follow-up with another test to monitor the levels of the white blood cells. They can order further tests to find out the underlying cause of your leucopenia.

What causes your white blood cell count to become low?

Various conditions can cause your white blood cell count to become low. These include

Infectious conditions (most common):

Disorders of the bone marrow:

Bone marrow is the place where the production of white blood cells takes place. Conditions or situations that affect the bone marrow can lower your white blood cell count. These include

Some rare bone marrow conditions that cause a low white blood cell count include:

Autoimmune disorders:

The immune system in some autoimmune disorders fails to differentiate between germs that attack the body and the body’s own cells such as the white blood cells. These conditions can cause your white blood cell count to become low. These include

Problems with the spleen:

Along with the bone marrow, the spleen also makes white blood cells. Inflammation of the spleen due to infections (such as malaria) and blood clots can lower your white blood cell count.

The spleen also helps filter damaged blood cells from your system. If it becomes overactive (medically known as hypersplenism), it removes all types of blood cells, whether they are damaged or healthy, including the white blood cells from your body. This lowers your white blood cells count.

Sarcoidosis:

It is a disorder characterized by accumulation of inflammatory cells in the body that form lumps (granulomas) in various organs of the body.

Medicines:

Arsenic poisoning can also cause leucopenia in some cases.

Vitamin deficiencies:

Not eating well can result in vitamin deficiencies such as those of vitamin B12, folic acid/folate, copper, and zinc. These nutritional deficiencies can cause the white blood cell count to become low.

Alcohol abuse can interfere with vitamin metabolism and cause a decrease in the white blood cell count.

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References
Low blood cell counts: Side effect of cancer treatment. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cancer/in-depth/cancer-treatment/art-20046192

Low white blood cell count. https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/low-white-blood-cell-count/basics/causes/sym-20050615#

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