Anyone who goes to the doctor for a yearly physical exam often has blood work ordered. Your doctor may check for several things. Typically, they run a complete blood count (CBC), which looks at different factors in your blood.
One of the features that a CBC targets is the monocyte count. This is because having a high absolute monocyte count could mean there's a deeper issue. Read on to learn more about your monocyte count and why it’s so important to your health.
What Are Monocytes?
A monocyte is a type of white blood cell (WBC). Its main function is to fight off infection. Monocytes also aid other WBCs to destroy cancer cells and remove tissue that's damaged. They regulate the body’s immunity too, among other things.
Monocytes are first produced in bone marrow and are released into the blood. They travel through the blood to vital organs, such as the lungs, liver and spleen.
A high or low monocyte count by itself does not necessarily indicate a problem. However, there is usually a reason why there is a high or low monocyte count. It could mean an infection or disease.
What Is the Monocyte Normal Range?
To first understand the normal range for monocytes, it’s important to know about the other WBCs that help the body function:
- Eosinophils help with allergic responses and destroy parasites and cancer cells.
- Lymphocytes produce antibodies against threats like bacteria and viruses.
- Basophils fight infections and allergies.
- Neutrophils combat bacteria and fungi.
Also, once monocytes reach tissue after traveling through the bloodstream, they are referred to as macrophages. Macrophages help your body fight cancer, stay healthy and get rid of damaged tissue.
When a monocyte count is high or low, this will be directly proportional to another type of blood cell. For example, monocytes may be high while basophils may be low. Your doctor will take a look at the complete picture in order to determine if further testing is needed.
Generally speaking, a normal monocyte count is between two to eight percent of all WBCs. Doctors will also look at an overall WBC count and not just individual cell types.
What Is a High Monocyte Count?
Anything above the baseline of eight percent is considered a high monocyte count (monocytosis). There are many reasons this could be occurring. Some reasons include viral infections, like mononucleosis, measles or mumps. Parasitic infections or tuberculosis (TB) can also cause high monocyte counts.
Chronic inflammatory disease is also a cause. High monocyte counts can be caused by different types of cancers too, especially leukemia. Anemia may be the root cause as well.
How Are High Monocyte Counts Treated?
High monocyte counts are not treated on their own. Instead, your healthcare provider will treat the root cause. For example, the first line of treatment for tuberculosis is antibiotics. Viral infections may have several different courses of treatment.
If cancer is the cause of high monocytes, then referral to an oncologist for treatment is needed. The treatment for anemia or other blood disorders often depends on the person's symptoms.
What Does a Low Monocyte Count Indicate?
Having a low monocyte count (monocytopenia) is not as common as a high monocyte count. A low count may be a side effect of chemotherapy or radiation. Or, it might be a sign of a bone marrow disorder. When the monocyte count is dangerously low, a bone marrow transplant may be a viable treatment.
Keeping Monocytes in the Healthy Range
There are steps you can take to try to keep your monocyte count healthy. Besides regular exercise, you can eat healthy foods that help reduce inflammation. These include olive oil; fruits and berries; green, leafy vegetables and nuts. Avoid fried foods, processed meats, and sugary foods and drinks.