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Neutropenia is a blood condition, a granulocyte disorder, that characterized by a deficiency of neutrophils, a type of white blood cell that defends the body against bacterial and fungal infections.
Granulocytes are a category of white blood cells. They are made in bone marrow. They contain microscopic granules with proteins (enzymes) that digest invading bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites and play a key role in our immune system response.
There are three types of granulocytes:
Neutropenia refers to a deficiency of neutrophils only, while agranulocytosis is when the bone marrow fails to make enough granulocytes in general (the three types). The two terms are often mistakenly used interchangeably.
Neutrophils surround invading bacteria or fungi and ingest them. Between 50% and 70% of our circulating white blood cells consist of neutrophils.
Patients with neutropenia are more likely to suffer complications from bacterial infections, which can sometimes develop into life-threatening neutropenic sepsis.
There are several types of neutropenia. Some people are born with the disorder, others get it after taking certain prescription drugs, some after becoming ill, and in others patients the cause it not known.
Below are some basic types of neutropenia: (Source: Neutropenia Support, Australia)
According to an article in the journal Hematology, written by Lawrence. A. Boxer, from the University of Michigan Health System, Ann Arbor, Michigan:
Most patients with neutropenia are unaware, and only find out after a blood test for an unrelated condition, have a severe infection, or sepsis.
People with neutropenia tend to suffer from infections, chills and fevers more often than others. The patient is more likely to have recurrent bacterial skin or throat infections. The lower the neutrophil count, the greater the risk of (and severity of) infection.
Some patients may complain of persistent body aches and pains.
Common infections may suddenly take an unexpected course, in which pus is notably absent. The formation of pus requires circulating neutrophils. However, some neutropenia patients may be prone to skin abscesses.
Signs and symptoms typical of people with neutropenia may include:
Acute neutropenia develops suddenly over a few hours or days. When neutrophil levels are low for more than three months the patients has chronic neutropenia.
Neutropenia can develop because...:
If the patient has recurrent or unusual infections, the doctor may suspect neutropenia and recommend a complete blood count. If the neutrophil count is low, it indicates neutropenia.
Patients receiving radiation therapy or chemotherapy are known to have a higher risk of developing neutropenia, and in such cases, if it does occur, the cause is known.
When the cause is not known, the doctor will order diagnostic tests to find out.
The patient may be advised to have a bone marrow biopsy to determine whether the problem is inside the bone marrow or outside - is the body not producing enough neutrophils, or are they being used up too fast or destroyed in the bloodstream?
Treatment for neutropenia depends on what the causes are and the severity of symptoms.
If you are living with neutropenia, there are many things you can do to minimize your risk of infection and attain optimum health. Below are some hints (Source: Neutropenia Support Association, California)
Follow a well-balanced, nutritious diet. Make sure you eat plenty of fiber (to prevent constipation).
Written by Christian Nordqvist
Copyright: Medical News Today
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Nordqvist, Christian. "What is neutropenia? What causes neutropenia?." Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 28 Aug. 2013. Web.
4 Dec. 2013. <http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/265373>
Nordqvist, C. (2013, August 28). "What is neutropenia? What causes neutropenia?." Medical News Today. Retrieved from
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