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What causes high levels of reactive lymphocytes?

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Quick Answer

It is common to see a temporary rise of lymphocytes after an infection. However, a high count of 3,000 lymphocytes in 1 microliter of blood may indicate an infection, cancer, or an autoimmune disorder that causes chronic inflammation.

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Some diseases linked to high levels of lymphocytes include chronic lymphocytic leukemia, acute lymphocytic leukemia, HIV/AIDS, mononucleosis and multiple myeloma.

According to Mayo Clinic, chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is a type of cancer of the blood and bone marrow. It is termed “chronic” because it progresses more slowly than other forms of leukemia, while the term “lymphocytic” refers to the type of blood cells affected by the disease. Usual symptoms include weight loss, fatigue, fever, frequent infections, and enlarged but painless lymph nodes. People age 60 and older and with a family history of bone cancer have an increased risk for CLL. People with early stages of CLL typically don’t receive any treatment, and treatment is reserved when the disease progresses. Advanced stages of CLL are treated with a variety of options, including chemotherapy, targeted drug therapy and bone marrow transplant.

Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) is also a type of blood cancer that progresses rapidly. The disease produces immature blood cells instead of mature ones. Typical symptoms include bleeding gums, recurring or severe nose bleeds, fever, bone pain, fatigue, shortness of breath, lumps caused by swollen lymph nodes and frequent infections. ALL mostly affects children, though it can also occur in adults. Treatments for ALL can include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, target drug therapy and stem cell transplant.

Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a chronic and a life threatening disease caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). HIV damages the immune system, therefore, affecting the body’s ability to fight disease-causing organisms. HIV is transmitted sexually, through contact with infected blood or from mother-to-child through pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. HIV/AIDS has no known cure, but there are drugs that can dramatically slow the progression of the disease.

Mononucleosis, or mono, is an infection that is passed through the saliva. It can be passed through kissing, coughing, sneezing or sharing a cup or utensil with an infected person. In spite of this, mononucleosis is not as infectious as other infections, such as the common cold, according to MayoClinic. Mononucleosis commonly affects adolescents and young adults. Young children rarely have symptoms, which leads to the infection going unrecognized. Rest and adequate fluid intake are vital for treatment.

Multiple myeloma is a cancer of the plasma cells, the white blood cells that produces antibodies that help fight infection. In multiple myeloma, a group of plasma cells becomes cancerous and reproduce rapidly, causing plasma cell levels to rise than normal. As a consequence, the level of abnormal proteins in the blood also goes up. People with multiple myeloma may experience a change in the red blood cell count, kidneys, bones and immune system. Mayo Clinic lists the standard treatments for multiple myeloma as oral medication, corticosteroids, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and stem cell transplantation.

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