If your doctor feels that there is a need, she may send you to the lab for some routine blood work. A complete blood count (CBC) may also be performed in order to determine that you have an adequate amount of red blood cells, hematocrit, haemoglobin, platelets and finally, white blood cells. Leukopenia, a white cell count lower than 3,500 per each microliter of adult blood, can have a variety of causes, and not all of them are a matter of grave concern. Your doctor will look at the full picture; taking your symptoms and other diagnostic tests into consideration, before determining the cause of your low white blood count.
What are White Blood Cells?
When discussing the causes of low white blood cells, it is important to first define what a white blood cell actually is. The National Cancer Institute explains that white blood cells are an important part of your immune system, and are manufactured in bone marrow. White blood cells travel through your blood and lymphatic system, protecting you from disease and infectious invaders.
Types of White Blood Cells
According to Puget Sound Blood Center there are five types of white blood cells (leukocytes). Each of these varieties of white blood cells plays a specific role in the fight against infection. Three of these, neutrophils, basophils and eosinophils, are known as "granulocytes" which contain microscopic granules and digestive enzymes. Monocytes are "macrophages" which are responsible for destroying damaged and worn out cells. Finally, lymphocytes team with macrophages to neutralise and weaken viruses that attack your immune system.
Since white blood cells are manufactured in bone marrow, when counts are low bone marrow may need to be examined to ensure that it is producing adequate amounts. Sometimes, it is found that the bone marrow is a problem; such is the case in leukaemia patients. Oncologychannel.com explains that if the bone marrow is affected, further tests may be ordered to locate other sites that the invading cells may have spread. If leukaemia is suspected to be the cause of your low white blood cell count, chemotherapy, radiation and/or other treatment methods may be necessary.
Another may be that your white blood cells are being destroyed. For instance, some autoimmune disorders can wreak havoc in your immune system, causing your body to actually attack itself, and your white blood cells. The National Institutes of Health report that patients diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) may also develop low white blood cell counts.
If your white blood count is down, an enlarged spleen may be the culprit. In some cases, the spleen can be responsible for the hording of white blood cells as it becomes over engorged with blood. Mayoclinic.com reports that this type of scenario is referred to as "splenomegaly," and is often a result of viral infections such as, mononucleosis. Cirrhosis of the liver and bacterial infections can also cause an enlarged spleen.