What does a Low White Blood Cell Count Indicate?

A diagram of the effects of leukemia, a disease that may cause a low white blood cell count.
Blood tests are used to measure white blood cell levels.
People with the flu often have decreased levels of white blood cells.
A white blood cell.
A diagram showing different types of white blood cells.
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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 05 October 2014
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White blood cells are essential to healthy immune system functioning, as they help fight off infections and other abnormalities in the blood, bone marrow, and lymphatic system. There are several different types of white blood cells, each of which are essential for defending the body against a certain malady, such as a bacteria, virus, fungus, parasite, or allergic reaction. If an individual has a low white blood cell count, his or her body becomes susceptible to serious illnesses and infections. A low white blood cell count can indicate the presence of one or more serious health problems, such as leukemia, hyperthyroidism, aplastic anemia, or an infectious disease. An insufficient number of cells may also be a potentially dangerous side effect from taking certain medications, or receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

It is common for a person with cancer to suffer from a low white blood cell count. A specific type of cancer known as leukemia is particularly devastating to blood cells and the immune system at large. Leukemia directly afflicts the tissue that makes up bone marrow, which in turn leads to fewer healthy white blood cells and an abundance of mutated, damaging ones. Doctors can test for leukemia and other cancers by ordering blood tests and extracting bone marrow to determine the number and condition of white blood cells. Leukemia is usually treated with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or bone marrow transplants.

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Unfortunately, the most popular treatments for leukemia and other types of cancer can also result in a low white blood cell count. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are intended to seek out and destroy abnormal cells, but innocent, healthy white blood cells can also be damaged during treatment. Many other medications, including some antipsychotic and antidepressant drugs, can deplete white blood cells with long-term use. Physicians commonly prescribe immune boosting drugs to patients to combat the negative effects of cancer treatments and other medications.

A low white blood cell count may also indicate the presence of a serious bacterial, viral, or fungal infection that attacks the immune system, such as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Some congenital disorders, including lupus and myelofibrosis, cause the body to attack its own defense system, depleting bone marrow and white blood cells. Individuals may suffer from aplastic anemia, a condition where the body is unable to produce new blood cells. Vitamin or mineral deficiencies, influenza, typhoid fever, and malaria can also result in a low white blood cell count.

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anon946852
Post 41

For at least 10 years, I have been told that my low WBC was no problem? Now I have been diagnosed with mixed connective tissue disease. Could this have been found earlier? Who knows? My only flare was in December.

anon935824
Post 40

I have multiple myeloma, Fibromyalgia and Sjrogren's syndrome - all of which affect the immune system and cells. My white blood count tended to run a bit low, but with my recent (two months ago) start of chemotherapy has my white cell count at a bit over 2.0. Not good for me at all since I am prepping for a plasma transplant using my own plasma. If I'm too low or too sick, I won't be able to do the transplant.

anon319078
Post 39

I have a score of 3.8. I have no idea what my past readings were since I never had a CBC (I paid for this CBC out of my pocket). I'm not sure of anything wrong with me but I do feel tired and fatigued a lot, but heck, who doesn't feel that way? So I'm not sure what to do other than retest and chart results.

anon315243
Post 37

I have found this info so helpful and reassuring. I have been freaking out so much since I went to the doctor last week. My wbc was 3.5 but appears to fluctuate quite often. I also panicked as he mentioned testing the bone marrow, etc. My wbc seems to be around this level for the past four years so I'm really trying to be positive.

It's so scary though, hearing the words leukemia and HIV. I really hope it's not something to worry about or that's just how my body is. I suffer from tonsillitis so I'm wondering if that's what seems to keep the count at a low level. I also had glandular fever a few years ago. Thank you for your reassuring comments. This is the one website that has reassured me. Good luck to all.

anon314081
Post 36

My brother and myself have both recently discovered our white blood cell counts are 1.0. We both also have iron deficiency. The doctors do not know what has caused this as we never get sick and eat a very healthy diet. We were both diagnosed as lactose intolerant a number of years ago so we have to watch what we eat.

anon295153
Post 35

I have had low white blood cell counts for over 10 years, 3.4-3.7, but I feel healthy. My doctor said that my WBC normal level is just 3.4-3.7.

anon289081
Post 34

I have recently had a constant headache and sore throat for five or six days now and got my cbc test and my white blood cells came out low at a 2.5. The next day i went to the ER (suggested by a RN) and got more blood tests done and my CBC was at a 2.2 just one day later. I also have been losing weight and eat healthy home cooked meals.

I am already petite and have lost four pounds in the last two months with no change in my eating habits. The doctor said it might be a virus that is causing all of this but I am revisiting the doctor for another CBC count in two days to follow up. Just to mention, seven months ago my CBC WBC count was at a great 11.7. So this major drop definitely has me on my feet. Also my platelets dropped from a 170 to 130, which is a low count.

Just follow up on the doctor and hope its something small such as a virus. The doctor said that symptoms it was getting worse would be stomach pains, fever, discoloration (signs of anemia)and bruising (low platelets).

My best guess is to just eat well, wash hands regularly and avoid eating raw fruits and vegetables (because of all the bacteria they carry) and stay away from people who may have a cold. Basically, be a germ freak until you know your WBC count is normal.

anon272396
Post 32

I had several x-rays for a back problem the day before my FBC test which came back with a low WBC of 3.4.

Could the x-ray (radiography) have had an effect on the blood test?

anon270273
Post 31

Can the herpes virus cause low white blood cell count?

anon242116
Post 29

My son, age 24, just had a blood test and his white blood count was 4.0 which was highlighted as low. Is this much of a concern? The test said 4.5-11.5 is the Reference Range. When the doctor called to report his blood work, he didn't even mention it. What are granulocytes. His count was 2.0 and also indicated as low, and normal is 2.3-5.0.

anon218716
Post 28

I have had a white cell count of 1.3 - 1.8 for years. Other than being slightly more likely to catch other people's colds I am quite healthy. Do not treat this as if it is a death sentence, simply eat healthy foods (skip the sugary, over processed crap), exercise and stop stressing over being different (I have curly hair, you have straight hair etc.)

anon178788
Post 27

why in typhoid do leukocytes decrease?

anon170564
Post 26

What is the normal white blood cell count range?

anon170563
Post 25

My white blood cell count has been low for the past 16 years, occasionally coming up to normal levels. I guess mine just runs low. I am otherwise very healthy with a white blood cell count of 3.3.

anon154548
Post 24

WBC is sometimes stated in a decimal number (25.2, for example) and other times in thousands. Is it to be assumed that 25.2 is the same as 25,200?

anon145912
Post 23

My WBC has been 3.0 to 3.2 for the last 10 years. I never get sick and am completely well. My normal just seems to be lower than other people's and so may yours be.

Don't have an internet based panic - speak with your doctor and let the doctor do the doctoring!

anon140306
Post 22

really obsessed? people come here looking for answers, but more importantly, they're here for support. maybe you should look over your last response, and hopefully you might realize how insensitive you sound.

anon134897
Post 21

I had a 'normal' white blood cell count since birth. Doctors and specialist have tested me and nothing has come up. I have been tested for everything under the sun, my blood levels are around 3.5, doctors have determined that it's just the way my body is, I feel fine, never get sick and workout regularly.

Vaidyan
Post 20

Ayuvedic blood cancer treatment. Probably, Ayurveda is the only remedy that cures leukemia/blood and marrow related cancers with out side effects, especially AML, APML, granulocytic sarcoma and lymphoma. Chemotherapy is not required.

While modern man made medicine is capable of providing only remission, survival period mostly short term, with medication/chemo/radiation afflicting bad side effects, and disease relapsing, how is it if the ancient Indian remedy cures leukemia! Ayurveda leukemia treatment works much faster than all other treatments.

Blast count comes down to 0 percent level and bone marrow starts functioning normally. BMT/SCT is much inferior to Vedic healing when the efficacy of treatment and the hash negative effects that the new age treatments often give to physiology are rationally reviewed. One is giving Punarnava (new life) and the other one is giving miseries and darkness.

One is giving complete perfect recovery, the other one temporary remission. One is good, the other poor.

This healing program is based on the oldest tradition of knowledge in human history, the Vedic tradition of India. Maharishis and masters have handed down the Vedic knowledge from generation to generation for thousands of years.

anon130849
Post 19

A drop of blood is coming out during from my nose or mouth coughing and this is common during winter.

anon129172
Post 18

i have enthesitis and am on weekly injections of enbrel and have been told I have a low blood count wonder if it caused by the medication I am on.

anon128737
Post 17

I'm under a doctor's care for a pituitary tumor and hypothyroidism, so I'm having blood drawn every four weeks.

I noticed that my WBC registered low this month, and went back to look at the two previous CBCs to do a quick comparison - just in case it was 'normal' for me. Eight weeks ago it was 5.7, 4 weeks ago it was low at 4.2, and last week it was 3.9 (my lab's range is 4.4 to 11).

I couldn't get my doctor to return my call to discuss, and I'm concerned about the rapid drop in such a short amount of time. It's my monocytes that are low - going from .6 to .4 to .1 (range from .3 to .8). That's a huge drop in eight weeks as well.

Anyone have any input or advice? I know that acute leukemias can present with low wbc counts, but so can HIV, lupus, etc. Thanks in advance!

anon127073
Post 16

My father is 75 and has been diagnosed with bladder cancer. He will not accept any treatment. The doctor has advised that his blood count is just over 7 and he should go into hospital for a blood transfusion -again he has refused. What does this all mean for the future?

anon126210
Post 15

I went to the doctor two weeks ago after having a physical for my job. During the physical, the doctor said she felt a swollen lymph node on the right side of my neck under my jaw.

I went back the next day to have the lymph node looked at by a different doctor who said they didn't feel a swollen lymph node. She ordered a CBC and the results came back normal except my white blood count was 3.7. When the doctor came in to tell me, she said "We can do one of two things: I can refer you to a Hematologist or you can come back in two weeks to be retested". She also ordered an ultrasound on my neck. I had the ultrasound yesterday and I still haven't heard back from the doctor on that report, but without me asking, the ultrasound tech told me he didn't see anything abnormal or any swollen nodes.

Anyway, I go back tomorrow for a repeat CBC and after all of my research on the internet since finding out about my low WBC, I found that the heartburn/indigestion medication (AcipHex) I started taking two to three days before my original CBC has post market reports of people having leukopenia (low WBC) while taking this medication. Furthermore, out of the people who reported having Leukopenia while on this medication, 75 percent of them reported it after having taken this medication for less than a month. So, I'm hoping and praying that the blood work comes back fine tomorrow.

I quit taking the AcipHex the day of the last blood work and in the meantime I've been eating more fruits and vegetables, green tea, and drinking water. Wish me luck!

anon122340
Post 14

Had blood work done recently an the doctor called me and told me i have to come in. I was scared out of my mind because the first thing he asked me when i revisited as if i'm HIV. I gave some more blood and i should get the results by next week. I'm scared out of my mind. I last did a routine STD/HIV test earlier this year and everything was fine. I'm with the same and only partner for the past five years.

It's been planted in my head of me having HIV. It's the reason why I'm surfing to get all the information i can to try and inform myself. he is telling me my B12 is good, no leukemia and everything else is good.

All my WBC cells records for the past four years have been good. Help. My WBC is a 2.7

anon120645
Post 13

Please, please, please people, *stop* interrogating the internet for potential illnesses and symptoms! I had a low white blood cell count four weeks ago. I panicked and interrogated the internet endlessly. Result, more panic.

Yes, I did the vitamin supplements, green tea, swimming exercise, broccoli ad infinitum, and today have received a reading which is acceptable - 4.1. I have no idea whether what I did made any difference. But I do know that my emotional state has not been enhanced by any of the scare stories I have read on the net. Please don't do it.

anon117526
Post 12

I had a complete medical check up and all the tests came normal. However, the Doctor told me that I had a low 1.18 white blood cell count. I feel fine apart from the stress at work. How can this be raised to normal?

anon111277
Post 11

I have had a low white blood count (3.5 range) which sometimes bounces back up to normal for ten years! I don't know what it was before that, because I wasn't having tests.

I have seen specialists, had all sorts of tests and scans, and nobody can find anything wrong with me. I am perfectly healthy as far as all the tests show. A naturopath told me that it was just my body's normal. Take care of yourselves, but don't panic! Of course, get it checked out, but the difference between a 3.5 and a 4 isn't that huge.

anon109832
Post 10

I'm posting to alleviate some of the posters' fears. During routine blood work in June, it was discovered that my white blood cell count was 3.2. I felt fine. The doctor recommended a retest in three months. Of course, I panicked and spent hours researching what it possibly could be. I was convinced it was some sort of blood cancer.

I just had the retest and the results were normal. One important factor in determining how worried to get is to find out what your previous 'normal' values for white blood cells were. Some people run low (4-6) and therefore are more apt to slip into the abnormal range every now and then.

If you feel fine, don't panic. Relax, eat well, exercise and get retested when your doctor tells you. It will probably turn out to be a normal fluctuation, like mine was.

anon108841
Post 9

my doctor told me that i have a low white blood cell count. i have a had cold and cough for two weeks now. The cold is gone but the cough is still there. i coughed every five seconds and nothing comes out and i have no pains. my doctor says my white blood cells are 3, which is low and normal is 4-5 and I'm afraid I need help. I am a nurse and i have too much stress from my job. maybe stress be the cause? and i hardly drink much water. I usually drink two glasses per day.

anon103368
Post 7

Annon99129 - Item 6

Take doses of amino acid. L-Lysne will help boost the immune system.

anon99129
Post 6

my son suffers from hormone imbalance and low iron as well as low white cell for the past three years. His body cannot fight off infection. I took him to the doctors the other day after he felt poorly for several days and slept endlessly and they are telling me there is nothing they can do. I am very worried for my son.

anon89725
Post 5

I was told today that I have a low white blood cell count and that it could be from a cold/cough I have had for a while. The doctor said i should get retested in three months. Isn't that a long time to wait? What if it is something more serious like cancer? Should I ask to have my blood taken again earlier?

anon79715
Post 4

My mum has been in hospital over the past week as she became very ill and had terrible stomach pains in the lower abdomen, and was extremely cold and had no energy.

The doctors found that her bowel had attached to other organs which has now righted itself with treatment but her white blood cells are 1.2 which is too low. She is having blood tests weekly at present and the last one has now forced them to take her in to hospital again on Monday to extract bone marrow from her hip.

I am beside myself with worry and stress. She is tiny and cannot fight treatments if god forbid this is the dreaded cancer.

anon74682
Post 3

My brother has a white low blood count. But it's not cancer. Doctors say his body is fighting itself. The doctor says he has never treated it and only 1 in a million gets it.

anon70079
Post 2

My friend recently told me that she has a low white blood cell count and I am worried about her. She will be having a series of blood tests. She has also been losing weight and is already petite and health conscious. Could it possibly just be an infection of some sort?

obsessedwithloopy
Post 1

Low white blood cell count is definitely not a good sign. It is an indication that something is going on in the body from something not so serious to potentially very serious.

If the white blood cell count is low, the potential for infection increases since the body does not have enough power to fight the invading organisms.

Precautions such as washing hands, staying away from people with colds and even wearing face mask can help.

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