White blood cells are particles in blood that help in protecting the body from any disease or infection. These particles float freely in the bloodstream though they are secreted from the bone marrow. Count of WBC may vary from one person to another according to their age and size. Infants would have high WBC count and it also differs from men and women. Even healthy adults can have low WBC count without having any infection or disease.
Any readings lower than 4,000 WBC per one microliter of blood is regarded as low. Medical term for defining low white blood cell count is leucopenia. Having very low count of WBC can increase the risk of infection for the affected person. In addition to white blood cells, readings of neutrophils, eosinophils, monocytes, basophils and lymphocytes may also reduce in number.
As a result of low level of WBC count in blood, the body’s immune system gets weakened making it susceptible to any infection and diseases. The body will not be able to fight off foreign invaders like before which can cause any diseases easily.
Any deviation in the production of blood cells from the bone marrow can affect the normal range of blood cells. Certain types of viral infections in the bone marrow can considerably reduce the blood cell production. Weakened immunity or autoimmune disorders like AIDS, cancer or lupus, rheumatoid arthritis can slow down the rate of WBC production. Certain medical conditions like aplastic anemia, myelofibrosis, lupus, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, typhoid, malaria and other infectious diseases, and sepsis can reduce the count of white blood cells.
Taking antipsychotic drugs like clozapine, antidepressant medication like Wellbutrin, anticonvulsant drugs like lamotrigine and metronidazole can also affect the normal level of WBC. Immunosuppressant drugs like Leflunomide, sirolimus and TNF inhibitors can also cause leucopenia. Congenital disorders (inherited by birth) and any type of cancerous growth in the body can affect the normal range of WBC leading to very low white blood cell count.
Undergoing treatments like chemotherapy or radiation can kill the healthy white blood cells. Strong medications can destroy the growth rate of WBC in blood. Vitamin deficiency in diet can also cause this condition. Parasitic diseases, thyroid problems, leukemia, lupus and myelofibrosis and Kostmann’s syndrome can cause leucopenia.
Small deviation from the normal range of WBC will not show any symptoms. However very low levels of WBC can cause signs like anemia (shortness of breath and fatigue), confusion, difficulty in concentrating and leg cramps. Women having very low WBC in blood may get menorrhagia causing heavy discharge during menstrual cycle. In severe cases bleeding can occur from the uterus also which is not due to menstruation. Other signs of leucopenia are headache, tiredness, irritability and inflammation on the mouth and cheeks and sometimes swelling of stomach.
A simple blood culture can reveal the level of white blood cells. For many people, deficiency of WBC is known only while doing blood test for other causes.
Treatment for leucopenia depends on the causative factor. If the problem is present in the bone marrow, your doctor would prescribe steroids for stimulating blood cell production. To manage vitamin deficiency multivitamin pills or supplement can be taken. As a preventive measure, your doctor may also give you antibiotics to rule out any infectious diseases present in the system.