Q:

What does it mean when you have a low white blood cell count?

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Quick Answer

A low white blood cell count is an indicator of serious infections, bone marrow deficiency, autoimmune disorders and certain types of cancer, according to MedlinePlus. Several types of medications, such as anti-seizure drugs and chemotherapy drugs, also cause decreased WBC counts.

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Full Answer

White blood cells help the immune system fight infections, explains MedlinePlus. A normal WBC count ranges from 4,500 to 10,000 cells per microliter. Mononucleosis, spleen disorders, liver diseases and lupus are some of the causes of a reduced WBC count. Antibiotics, diuretics and anti-thyroid drugs can also reduce the number of WBCs in the blood.

There are five major types of white blood cells, notes the University of Rochester Medical Center. Basophils let other white blood cells know when a foreign substance has entered the bloodstream and participate in the body's immune response by releasing histamine and other chemicals. Eosinophils participate in the allergic response, destroy parasites and kill cancer cells. Monocytes break down bacteria, preventing infections from getting out of control. Lymphocytes defend the body against infections by producing antibodies to certain organisms. Neutrophils are the first WBCs to respond when a foreign substance infects the body. They help the body fight infection by digesting fungi and bacteria.

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    What could a low white blood cell and platelet count mean?

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    A low white blood cell count and low blood platelet count can mean a patient has myelodysplastic syndrome, according to the MDS Foundation and Mayo Clinic. MDS is a group of disorders of the bone marrow.

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    What are possible symptoms of having a low white blood cell count?

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    Common symptoms of having a low white blood cell count include fatigue, shortness of breath, weakness and recurrent infections that are difficult to treat, according to HealthGrades. Those who struggle with a bad infection with accompanying symptoms like fever, sore throat, skin lesions or swollen lymph nodes should seek medical attention immediately. Having a low white blood cell count is a condition that is medically referred to as leukopenia, and may be an indication of a suppressed immune system.

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    Why would your white blood cell count be low?

    A:

    A congenital or autoimmune disorder, cancer, a viral infection, an overwhelmingly strong infection, or certain drugs may cause a low white blood cell count, Mayo Clinic advises. Damage to bone marrow, which produces white blood cells, or to white blood cells themselves reduces white blood cell levels.

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    How do doctors treat low blood cell counts?

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    Because there are so many underlying causes for a low white blood cell (WBC) count, treatment options are dependent on the specific cause. For example, a cause for a low white blood cell count can be many different diseases that can include aplastic anemia, leukemia, cancer, autoimmune disorders, lupus and spleen disorders, reports the Mayo Clinic. These underlying causes need to be treated to correct low levels of WBC.

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