Investigation of White Blood Cell Disorders

 

What are white blood cells?

White blood cells are cells that are made in the bone marrow, and exist in the marrow, the blood stream, in lymph nodes and scattered thoughout our all our tissues. They are a family of cells which make up our immune system. Some white cells function as detectors or sensors of foreign cells or particles (such as bacterial, viral or fungal infection, or vaccines), and some cells function as ‘killer’ cells to remove foreign cells or particles. Another group of cells act to regulate this whole system so that the body only reacts against foreign cells or particles, and not agains its own cells. Haematologists can be asked to see a patient because of Low White Cell Counts, or High White Blood Cell Counts.

What causes Low White Blood Cell Counts and why is this a problem?

Low white blood cell counts can be caused by a bone marrow problem, where not enough cells are being produced, or by an immune problem where the white cells are are being destroyed by your own immune system, or by infection and sometimes, by medications. Mildly low white blood cell counts can cause no symptoms at all. A very low white blood cell count can make you prone to infections, so it is important to learn how low is too low, and what can be done to treat the problem, and how to prevent infections from complicating your condition. Neutrophils are the specific white blood cell type which are crucial to fight infections.

Any patient with a low neutrophil count should own a good quality digital thermometer, and take their temperature if they ever feel unwell.

A temperature over 38 degrees Celsius in a patient with a low white blood cell count is a medical emergency and the patient should seek medical advice straight away either through their GP, or through their emergency department.

 

What tests are ordered to investigate Low White Blood Cell Counts?

Low white blood cell counts are investigated by blood tests, and occasionally your haematologist will request a bone marrow biopsy to assess whether the problem lies in the marrow itself.

What causes High white blood cell Counts and why is this a problem?

High White Blood Cell Counts are sometimes a normal and useful response, due to your body fighting an infection. At other times a High White Blood Cell Count is due to your bone marrow producing too many cells when it does not need to. High white blood cell counts can cause no symptoms at all, but if the white cells are not functioning well, you may be prone to infections. If there are too many white blood cells, your blood may not flow well, causing symptoms including nose bleeds, confusion or altered vision.

What tests are ordered to investigate Low White Blood Cell Counts?

High white blood cell counts are investigated by blood tests, and occasionally your Haematologist will request a bone marrow biopsy to assess whether the problem lies in the marrow itself.

 

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