Leukopenia is the term for a low level of white blood cells. White blood cells fight infections and disease in your body.
At Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA), our team of experts provides comprehensive diagnostic and medical care for people with leukopenia. SCCA hematologists work closely with all of our doctors to care for people whose health is affected by low white blood cell counts.
Request an appointment
What is leukopenia?
A low white blood cell count means your bloodstream contains fewer infection- and disease-fighting cells (leukocytes) than normal.
Mild leukopenia is not uncommon among people from certain ethnic backgrounds, such as Africans and African Americans. If leukopenia is not related to normal differences among people and is more severe, you might develop certain infections and illnesses more easily because your immune system is not as strong as normal.
White blood cells are made in your bone marrow, so a medicine, disease or viral infection that inhibits or slows bone marrow function can cause your white blood cell count to fall below normal levels.
Leukopenia can also happen as a result of a chronic condition, like a deficiency of vitamin B12 or folic acid, an autoimmune disorder or a bone marrow disease, like aplastic anemia, leukemia or myelodysplastic syndrome. Some medicines, including chemotherapies used for cancer and antibiotics, and certain other treatments, like radiation therapy, can cause leukopenia too.
Symptoms and diagnosis of leukopenia
Leukopenia symptoms may include fever, inflammation in and around the mouth, frequent infections and infections that don’t go away.
Sometimes doctors detect leukopenia before any symptoms occur — during blood work being done for another reason or during a routine blood test.
Leukopenia can be a sign of many other diseases, so SCCA doctors are careful to look beyond the white blood cell count to determine whether leukopenia is the root problem or is caused by an underlying bone marrow disease or treatment for a disease.
To further evaluate and diagnose the cause of leukopenia, your doctor will do a thorough physical exam, a complete blood count (CBC) and other specialized blood tests as needed, such as flow cytometry, blood cultures, viral studies and autoimmune markers. If blood tests cannot confirm a diagnosis, your doctor may order a bone marrow biopsy to get more information about your condition.
If you’re receiving treatment through SCCA for cancer or certain noncancerous blood, bone marrow or other disorders, your doctor may check your blood regularly to detect any drop in your blood cell levels. Depending on the level and the cause, you may need changes to your treatment plan or need additional treatments to improve your blood counts.
Once your doctors understand the cause of your low white blood count, they will recommend treatment options to correct the leukopenia and to prevent infections in the meantime.
Treatment might include taking a medicine called a growth factor that stimulates your bone marrow to produce new, healthy white blood cells. Your doctor may also recommend vitamins or other interventions to stimulate your bone marrow and bolster your immune system. You may need antibiotics to ward off infection.