A low white blood cell (or red blood cell) count will become apparent if the patient undertakes a full blood count test. “Normal” levels of blood cells are known to vary amongst different age groups, and between men and women (especially if a woman is pregnant). The patient’s lifestyle may also have an effect, such as their diet, caffeine and alcohol intake and whether they smoke.
A low white blood cell count on its own isn’t necessarily of concern, but it can indicate a more serious underlying condition. Therefore thorough patient history taking and further examination will likely be required.
What are the symptoms of a low white blood cell count?
A low white blood cell count is referred to as “neutropenia”.
White blood cells make up a crucial part of the immune system and serve to fight infection. Patients presenting with a low white blood cell count may therefore suffer from:
- Repeated infections and fevers
- Bladder infections that mean frequent and/or painful urination
- Sores in and around the mouth
- Lung infections that make it hard to breath or that induce coughing
- Regular skin infections
- A stuffy nose and/or sinus problems
What causes a low white cell count?
Early on in the patient’s diagnosis it’s extremely important to determine what is causing their low white cell count. Causes can include:
- Medications such as antibiotics, anti-psychotic drugs or medication for an overactive thyroid
- Certain cancers including leukaemia
- Certain cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy
- An HIV or hepatitis infection
- Folic acid or vitamin B12 deficiency
- Autoimmune disorders such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis
How is a low white blood count treated?
If a low white blood cell count has been detected, the patient may need to be referred to a haematologist for further tests. It will also be important to ascertain if there is any infection or inflammation present.
Treatments will be dependent on the underlying condition found. Patients may need therapies or medication to boost their white cell count, as well as advice on how to avoid infections. Once the underlying cause of the low cell count has been identified and treated, the patient’s blood count should go back to normal.
Understanding blood counts and tests in more detail
If you’re a healthcare professional based in a surgery, clinic, school or similar then our course An introduction to basic haematology and biochemistry investigations is well worth considering. Offering a solid foundation in understanding the basics of blood tests and results, this very popular one-day course is worth 8 hours of CPD. Fully hands-on and interactive, it’s held online via Zoom. Check our web site for course dates. https://pduk.net/scheduled-courses
Looking for something slightly more advanced? Then PDUK’s Advanced interpretation of blood results in clinical practice may be more suitable instead.
Building on the fundamentals of interpreting blood tests, this course provides an advanced understanding of essential blood results. Ideal for healthcare professionals who are already comfortable with basic blood tests, it’s the perfect chance to develop your skills further.
Spread over two days the course is worth 14 hours of CPD. Again, it’s held online via Zoom. You can find out further course information and book here https://pduk.net/courses/7/advanced-interpretation-of-blood-results-in-clinical-practice.htm
For both courses, all course material and evaluations will be provided. However, as always numbers are limited so make sure you book up early.