This article on Epainassist.com has been reviewed by a medical professional, as well as checked for facts, to assure the readers the best possible accuracy.

We follow a strict editorial policy and we have a zero-tolerance policy regarding any level of plagiarism. Our articles are resourced from reputable online pages. This article may contains scientific references. The numbers in the parentheses (1, 2, 3) are clickable links to peer-reviewed scientific papers.

The feedback link “Was this Article Helpful” on this page can be used to report content that is not accurate, up-to-date or questionable in any manner.

This article does not provide medical advice.


Idiopathic Leukocytosis : Uncommon Causes and Diagnostic Considerations

Leukocytosis, defined by an increase in the number of white blood cells (WBC) in the bloodstream, can be a harbinger of various medical conditions, ranging from benign to serious. While the common causes of leukocytosis include infections, inflammations, or certain medications, sometimes its origin remains unidentified, leading to the term ‘idiopathic leukocytosis’. This article dives deep into the lesser-known causes of idiopathic leukocytosis and discusses the considerations for its diagnosis. 

Introduction to Idiopathic Leukocytosis

Leukocytosis is an abnormally high white blood cell (WBC) count. The normal WBC count is 4,000 to 11,000 cells per microliter (μL) of blood. A WBC count of more than 11,000 cells/μL is considered leukocytosis. There are many different causes of leukocytosis. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Infection
  • Inflammation
  • Tissue damage
  • Medications
  • Stress
  • Exercise
  • Pregnancy
  • Smoking

In some cases, the cause of leukocytosis is unknown. Idiopathic leukocytosis refers to a heightened white blood cell count without an identifiable cause, even after thorough clinical evaluation and laboratory testing. Idiopathic leukocytosis is a rare condition. It is more common in children than adults. The exact cause of idiopathic leukocytosis is not known. However, it is thought to be caused by a combination of factors, including:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Environmental factors
  • Immune system abnormalities

Idiopathic leukocytosis is usually a benign condition. However, it can sometimes be a sign of a more serious underlying medical condition, such as leukemia. Recognizing and understanding this category is crucial for physicians to avoid unnecessary investigations and to provide appropriate patient care.

Uncommon Causes of Leukocytosis 

Although many causes of leukocytosis are well-documented, the following are lesser-known reasons: 

  • Endocrine Disorders: Certain disorders like Cushing’s syndrome and adrenal insufficiency can lead to elevated WBC counts.
  • Splenectomy: Post-surgical removal of the spleen, there may be a persistent increase in circulating neutrophils, leading to leukocytosis.
  • Certain Medications: Drugs such as corticosteroids, lithium, and beta-agonists have been implicated in raising WBC counts.
  • Acute Hemorrhage: Rapid loss of blood may transiently elevate the leukocyte count.
  • Severe Physical Stress: Events such as seizures or extreme physical exertion can sometimes cause a transient spike in WBCs.
  • Basophilia: This is an increase in the number of basophils, a type of white blood cell. Basophilia can be caused by a variety of conditions, including allergic reactions, infections, and certain medications.
  • Eosinophilia: This is an increase in the number of eosinophils, another type of white blood cell. Eosinophilia can be caused by allergic reactions, parasitic infections, and certain medications.
  • Monocytosis: This is an increase in the number of monocytes, a type of white blood cell that plays a role in fighting infection. Monocytosis can be caused by chronic infections, inflammatory conditions, and certain medications.
  • Lymphocytosis: This is an increase in the number of lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that plays a role in the immune system. Lymphocytosis can be caused by infections, autoimmune diseases, and certain medications.

A Closer Look at Leukocytosis Subtypes

While discussing the causes and types of leukocytosis, it’s essential to delve deeper into certain terminologies that often emerge, namely Basophilia, Eosinophilia, Monocytosis, and Lymphocytosis. These terms refer to the increase in specific types of white blood cells.

Key Point: While Basophilia, Eosinophilia, Monocytosis, and Lymphocytosis point to heightened counts of respective white blood cells, it’s critical to understand that they represent subcategories of leukocytosis. Rather than being “uncommon causes” on their own, they detail the type of white blood cell that has increased in number, offering more specificity to the general term, leukocytosis.

Diagnostic Considerations For Idiopathic Leukocytosis

The diagnosis of idiopathic leukocytosis is made after other possible causes have been ruled out. This can be a challenging process, as there are many different conditions that can cause leukocytosis. When confronted with idiopathic leukocytosis, the following diagnostic steps may help elucidate the cause: 

  • Detailed History: A comprehensive medical history, including the use of medications, recent surgical procedures, or any underlying chronic conditions, can offer clues.
  • Physical Examination: Checking for signs of infection, inflammation, or other abnormalities might help pinpoint the underlying cause.
  • Laboratory Studies: Apart from a complete blood count (CBC), specialized tests such as peripheral blood smear, bone marrow biopsy, or flow cytometry might be considered.
  • Imaging Studies: In some cases, imaging tests like X-rays, CT scans, or ultrasounds can help identify any hidden infections or tumors.
  • Review of Medications: It’s important to review all medications the patient is on, even over-the-counter drugs, as they may be potential culprits.

Differential Diagnosis

Several conditions can mimic idiopathic leukocytosis: 

  • Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML): A type of cancer that starts in certain blood-forming cells of the bone marrow.
  • Polycythemia Vera: A slow-growing blood cancer where the bone marrow makes too many red blood cells.
  • Leukemoid Reaction: An exaggerated response to an infection or certain medications, resembling leukemia but not cancerous.

Management and Treatment of Idiopathic Leukocytosis

The treatment for idiopathic leukocytosis is usually not necessary. However, if the WBC count is very high, or if the patient is experiencing symptoms, medications may be prescribed to lower the WBC count. These medications include corticosteroids, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Once other causes of leukocytosis are ruled out, the approach to idiopathic leukocytosis is largely observational: 

  • Monitoring: Regular monitoring of WBC counts and other related parameters is crucial.
  • Address Underlying Causes: If a specific cause, like a medication, is identified, then modifying or discontinuing that agent might be necessary.
  • Consultation: Consider consulting with a hematologist if the leukocytosis persists or if there’s any concern about a hematologic malignancy.

The prognosis for idiopathic leukocytosis is generally good. Most patients with this condition have a normal life expectancy. However, there is a small risk of developing a more serious underlying medical condition, such as leukemia.


Idiopathic leukocytosis remains a challenge in the field of hematology, given its vast differential diagnosis. By understanding the uncommon causes and being systematic in the diagnostic approach, physicians can better manage and treat patients. As with many medical conditions, a collaborative approach, including consultation with specialists when needed, often yields the best outcomes.


  • Bain, Barbara J. “Leucocytosis.” Br J Haematol, vol. 130, no. 2, 2005, pp. 165-170.
  • McKenzie, S. B., & Williams, J. L. (2018). Clinical laboratory hematology (3rd ed.). Pearson.
  • Goasguen, Jean E., et al. “Mature neutrophilic leukocytosis: is it all chronic myeloid leukaemia?.” British journal of haematology, vol. 184, no. 5, 2019, pp. 713-719.

Also Read:

Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:August 29, 2023

Recent Posts

Related Posts