What is Leukopenia & How is it Treated?
What is Leukopenia?
Leukopenia is a pathological condition in which there is a decrease in white blood cell count. Talking in figures, in patients with Leukopenia the WBC count falls below 4,000 which is significantly low. There can be numerous causes for this to happen like viral infections or cancer in which bone marrow is involved. Certain cancer patients who are undergoing chemotherapy are also vulnerable to develop Leukopenia. The presenting feature of Leukopenia is frequent episodes of gingivitis or periodontitis.
Leukopenia can be a potentially serious condition if not given prompt attention and treatment, as excessively low white blood cell count can make an individual prone to frequent infections. Neutropenia is always associated with Leukopenia.
What are the Causes of Leukopenia?
The main cause for Leukopenia has been noted to be excessive use of neutrophils by the body resulting in decreased amount of neutrophils or the inability of the body to produce enough neutrophils resulting in neutropenia and then Leukopenia. Some of the supposed causes of Leukopenia are:
- Aplastic anemia is known to cause Leukopenia
- People undergoing chemotherapy for cancer can also develop Leukopenia
- Certain types of cancer, especially those involving the bone marrow may lead to development of Leukopenia.
- Dengue Fever is also noted to be a potential cause of Leukopenia, although this condition is rare in the United States
- Hodgkin’s lymphoma is also one of the causes that can result in low white blood cell count or Leukopenia
- Influenza is a condition which can also cause Leukopenia
- If an individual has low levels of folate in the body then that individual can develop Leukopenia
- Splenomegaly is also known to cause Leukopenia
- Tuberculosis is also a condition which causes Leukopenia
- If an individual has deficient levels of Zinc and Copper then that individual can develop Leukopenia.
What are the Symptoms of Leukopenia?
If the levels of white blood cells are slightly low then the individual may not experience any symptoms, although if the counts are extremely low then the individual may have symptoms of neutropenia. Some of the symptoms of Leukopenia are:
- The patient will have symptoms of anemia like severe lethargy and weakness as the level of hemoglobin falls in Leukopenia
- Even slight activity may be difficult for the patient to perform and may cause weakness and fatigue
- Fever which is an indicator of an infectious process going on in the body which is a sign of low white blood cells or Leukopenia
- Persistent headache that may be caused due to low hemoglobin levels and less oxygen reaching the brain
- Liver Abscess is seen in severe cases of Leukopenia
- Menorrhagia can be observed in females
- Metrorrhagia is also observed in females with Leukopenia
- The patient suffering from Leukopenia may feel very down emotionally
- Pneumonia is also an indicator that the patient may be having low white blood cells or Leukopenia
- Thrombocytopenia is also seen in patients with Leukopenia
- There may also be presence of mouth ulcers
- An individual with Leukopenia will crave for hot drinks.
How is Leukopenia Diagnosed?
Blood test is the mainstay for diagnosing Leukopenia as a blood draw will clearly show low levels of white blood. Apart from that the physician will take a history of the patient about whether the patient has a past history of undergoing any chemotherapy treatments or whether the patient has been exposed to any forms of radiation.
The physician will also order a platelet count, urinalysis, sedimentation rate, and chemistry panel to confirmatively diagnose Leukopenia. Sometimes, ANA, serum protein electrophoresis and B12, and folate levels will be checked to look for any deficiencies and confirm the diagnosis of Leukopenia. Some other tests that can be done to diagnose Leukopenia and the cause of it are:
- Bone scan for metastasis
- CT or MRI of the abdomen to look for splenomegaly, liver disease, and neoplastic disease
- Lymph node biopsy to detect Hodgkin’s disease and to look for presence of metastasis.
How is Leukopenia Treated?
Treatment for Leukopenia is directed at alleviating symptoms and targeting the infections and treating them at the earliest. Treatment for leukopenia is usually palliative. Some of the methods of treating Leukopenia are:
- Vitamins and Steroids. These are given to patients to try to increase the white blood cell count, as they are useful in stimulating the bone marrow to produce more white blood cells and treat Leukopenia.
- If cancer is a cause for the patient’s Leukopenia then chemotherapy may be done to treat the cancer and then medications may be given to treat Leukopenia
- The patient may also be given a Drug Cocktail for more effective treatment of Leukopenia.