Leukopenia, also known as leucopenia or leukocytopenia, is when the blood has an abnormally low amount of white blood cells, or leukocytes. It is from the greek words that mean "white" and "deficiency." When there is a lowered amount of white blood cells in the blood, there is a higher risk of contracting an infection.
When there is a low amount of platelets in the blood, it is called thrombocytopenia. Thrombocytopenia can be seen in leukopenia cases and will need to be treated with steroids, vitamins, and immunosuppressants. Having leukopenia doesn't always mean a patient will also have thrombocytopenia, however.
Leukopenia can be caused by medications, cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation, immune lowering diseases such as HIV, and even influenza. Other causes of leukopenia are mineral deficiencies like copper and zinc, sepsis, and aplastic anemia. Medications that can typically lower white blood cells are antipsychotic drugs, immunosuppressive drugs, interferons, and some antidepressants.
The symptoms of leukopenia only start to show once there is a severe case; mild cases don't usually have symptoms. They include anemia, pneumonia, liver abscess, and mouth inflammation. There are also signs of headache, fever, cravings for hot drinks, and irritability. For women, their periods may last longer and be heavier, and they may suffer from hot flashes.
A diagnosis can be made with a simple blood draw. This blood test is called a complete blood count (CBC) and will measure the amount of white blood cells in the blood. This is typically the only way to tell if someone has an abnormally low amount.
Treatment for leukopenia begins with vitamins and steroids. This will stimulate the marrow to make more leukocytes. While suffering from leukopenia and going through the treatments, the patient is at a higher risk for infections, cancer, and AIDS due to suppressed immunity.
While having a low white blood cell count is not fatal in itself, it can lead to death if the patient catches an infection his body cannot fight. Lowered white blood cell counts can open the patient up to be a host to various parasitic diseases. The body, while fatigued and its immune system compromised, is in a fragile state.
Having regular CBC tests run as part of a yearly physical exam is a good way to monitor any issues with blood cell counts. This test can help see problems before they get out of control and before any additional conditions are present. CBC tests should be a standard part of any regular physical checkup.