Neutropenia – Causes, symptoms, and types

Neutrophils are a type of white blood cells naturally produced by the body, essential for the normal function of the immune system. A deficiency of these white blood cells results in a condition called neutropenia. Neutrophils are essential for fighting certain bacteria and viruses that can cause an infection. The bone marrow in one’s body is primarily responsible for producing neutrophils to boost the immune system and maintain overall health.

Chemotherapy for the treatment of cancer is one of the common causes of neutropenia through destruction. In addition to destroying the cancer cells, chemotherapy also damages the healthy white blood cells thus weakening the immune system. Radiation therapy for targeted treatment also has the same effect on healthy neutrophil cells. The healthy cells can also be destroyed as a result of side effect of certain medications used to treat an overactive thyroid, anti-inflammatory conditions like ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, and irregular heart rhythm.

Infections including chicken pox, Epstein-Barr, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, measles, salmonella infection, and sepsis can affect optimum neutrophil levels in the immune system. The condition can also develop due to certain autoimmune diseases and bone marrow disorders.

The condition can affect men and women exhibiting the following symptoms.

  • Vaginal discharge or itching.
  • Aggravated redness, swelling or pain with an existing cut or injury.
  • A persistent cough and shortness of breath that affects normal breathing.
  • High fever upwards of 100.5 Fahrenheit.
  • Experiencing the chills in hot weather or sweating in a cooler setting.
  • Experiencing a toothache or developing sores in the throat or mouth.

Different types of neutropenia
Isoimmune neonatal neutropenia
The condition affects pregnant women and the developing fetus when antibodies from the mother’s body cross the placenta and attack the baby’s neutrophils. Sepsis is one of the triggers of isoimmune neonatal neutropenia. The condition resolves itself within a span of a couple of months without any need for medical intervention.

Cyclic neutropenia
It is one of the rarest forms of neutropenia that is known to affect only one in a million people. The congenital syndrome can cause fluctuations in normal neutrophil levels. A count of 1500 neutrophils per microliter of blood indicates a developing condition and a white blood cell count of less than 500 per microliter indicates a serious case of neutropenia. Immediate medical attention is advisable at this point.

Autoimmune neutropenia
Autoimmune disorders are known to attack and destroy the healthy cells of the immune system. The loss of neutrophils as a result of such disorders are commonly referred to as autoimmune neutropenia. The destruction of neutrophils is more in comparison to production healthy white blood cells by the bone marrow in case of autoimmune disorders, thus crippling the immune system at an alarming rate.

Chronic idiopathic neutropenia
The symptoms of chronic idiopathic neutropenia are more persistent and consistent in nature, predominantly affecting women.

Neutropenia can also be caused due to the lack of neutrophils in the bloodstream. Myelokathexis is a condition wherein there is a failure in transferring the white blood cells from the bone marrow into the bloodstream affecting optimum levels of WBCs in the process.

There are multiple treatment options available for neutropenia. However, one must also make the necessary lifestyle changes to ensure a speedy and full recovery.

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