White Blood Cell Disorders | Blood Disorders

Blood Disorders

White Blood Cell Disorders

We offer the highest level of care for all types of white blood cell disorders. Our team provides diagnosis, treatment and support options customized just for you.

Medically reviewed by Brian Jonas, M.D. on Oct. 12, 2023.

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Diagnosis and Treatments Personalized for You

At the UC Davis Division of Hematology and Oncology our experienced blood disorder doctors (hemotologists) specialize in diagnosing and treating white blood cell disorders. No matter what white blood cell condition you have, we provide complete and compassionate care.

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What Are White Blood Cell Disorders?

White blood cells, also called leukocytes, are part of your immune system. They help your body fight off infection. Your body has five kinds of white blood cells:

  • Basophils: Produce allergic responses, such as sneezing or coughing.
  • Eosinophils: Supports the immune system, attack parasites and can impact cancer response.
  • Lymphocytes: Fight viruses and make proteins that target disease-causing organisms (antibodies).
  • Monocytes: Defend your immune system against injury and infection.
  • Neutrophils: Help your body fight off bacterial and fungal infections.

White blood cell disorders occur when you have too many white blood cells (leukocytosis) or not enough white blood cells (leukopenia).

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Symptoms of White Blood Cell Disorders

Symptoms vary based on the underlying cause and whether you have too many or too few white blood cells.

Common Symptoms of High White Blood Cell Count (Leukocytosis)

These symptoms could be signs of leukocytosis:

  • Bleeding or bruising
  • Dizziness or vision problems
  • Fatigue
  • Fever and sweating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pain in your abdomen, arms or legs
  • Trouble breathing

Common Symptoms of Low White Blood Cell Count (Leukopenia)

These symptoms could be signs of leukopenia:

  • Body aches
  • Chills and fever
  • Cough and sore throat
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Sores on your mouth or skin
  • Trouble breathing
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Causes of White Blood Cell Disorders

Many factors may lead to white blood cell disorders. Sometimes providers don’t know the exact cause of these disorders. Causes may include:

Allergies

Allergies may lead to a high white blood cell count.

Autoimmune Conditions

Some autoimmune diseases such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis may cause an elevated white blood cell count.

Bacterial Infections

Bacterial infections, such as sepsis, may result in a high number of white blood cells.

Bone Marrow Cancer

Cancers that attack your bone marrow, such as lymphoma, leukemia and multiple myeloma, may lead to a low white blood cell count.

Bone Marrow Failure

Your body may stop producing enough white blood cells (aplastic anemia).

Exposure to Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy, a powerful drug that treats certain cancers, can reduce your white blood cell count.

Immune System Disorders

Immune system disorders, such as HIV/AIDS, can cause a low white blood cell count.

Injury

Injuries or stress may raise your white blood cell count.

Medications

Some types of medications, such as corticosteroids, may affect your levels of white blood cells.

Liver or Spleen Diseases

Liver disease or spleen disease may lead to a low white blood cell count.

Parasites

Parasitic infections can increase your number of eosinophils.

Viral Infections

Viral infections, such as mononucleosis or tuberculosis, can trigger a high blood cell count.

Vitamin Deficiency

A lack of vitamins, such as vitamin B12, can lead to a low blood cell count.

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Diagnosing White Blood Cell Disorders

Blood tests can diagnose a white blood cell disorder. Your provider may have you get a:

  • Complete blood cell count (CBC): This test shows the proportion of white and red blood cells that you have.
  • Blood differential: This test shows the amounts of each type of white blood cell.

If your blood tests show a high or low number of white blood cells, you may get a bone marrow biopsy. During this procedure, we remove a sample of your bone marrow tissue to look for abnormal blood cells.

White Blood Cell Disorders Treatments

At UC Davis Health, our hematologists specialize in treating white blood cell conditions. We will work with you to create a treatment plan targeted toward your specific condition. Treatments that we offer include:

Antibiotics

Antibiotics can help treat bacterial infections and lower your white blood cell count.

Antiparasitic Medications

Drugs to treat infections by parasites can decrease your number of white blood cells.

Blood Transfusion

A blood transfusion replaces damaged white blood cells with healthy cells from a donor.

Chemotherapy or Radiation

Chemotherapy or radiation therapy can treat underlying cancer.

Colony-Stimulating Factors (CSF)

These medications can stimulate your bone marrow to make more white blood cells.

Glucocorticoids

These hormones can help to increase production of white blood cells.

Immunosuppressants

These medications can lessen your immune response if you have an autoimmune disease, helping to lower your white blood cell count.

Stem Cell Transplant

We can replace your bone marrow with healthy bone marrow from a donor to help you produce normal white blood cells.

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Preventing White Blood Cell Disorders

You can’t always lower your risk of white blood cell disorders. But there are certain steps you can take to stay healthier:

Treat Underlying Medical Issues

Many conditions, such as immune system disorders, can throw your white blood cell levels off balance. Treating these conditions can help your white blood cells return to a healthy level.

Wash Your Hands

Keeping your hands clean helps prevent bacterial and viral infections. Remember to wash your hands before preparing food or cleaning cuts and wounds. Also make sure you wash your hands after handling animals or using the toilet.

Normal white blood cell count in women

4.5-11KWhite cells per microliter of blood

Normal white blood cell count in men

5-10KWhite cells per microliter of blood

Source: Leukemia & Lymphoma Society: Understanding Blood Counts

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