Neutropenia

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Neutropenia facts

  • Neutropenia is a condition in which the number of neutrophils (a type of white blood cell) in the bloodstream is decreased, affecting the body's ability to fight off infections.
  • Neutropenia is defined as an absolute neutrophil count (ANC) of less than 1500 per microliter (1500/microL)
  • Neutropenia may be caused by or associated with numerous medical conditions
  • Most infections that occur as a result of neutropenia are due to bacteria that are normally present on the skin or in the gastrointestinal or urinary tract.
  • Treatment depends upon the cause and severity of he condition as well as the underlying disease state responsible for the neutropenia.

What is neutropenia?

Neutropenia is a condition in which the number of neutrophils in the bloodstream is decreased. Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell also known as polymorphonuclear leukocytes or PMNs. Neutropenia reduces the body's ability to fight off bacterial infections.

White blood cells are also known as leukocytes. There are five major types of circulating white blood cells:

  1. basophils,
  2. eosinophils,
  3. lymphocytes (T-cells and B-cells,
  4. monocytes, and
  5. neutrophils.

Some white blood cells, called granulocytes, are filled with microscopic granules that are little sacs containing enzymes (compounds that digest microorganisms). Neutrophils, eosinophils, and basophils are all granulocytes and are part of the innate immune system with somewhat nonspecific, broad-based activity. They do not respond exclusively to specific antigens, as do the lymphocytes (B-cells and T-cells).

Neutrophils contain enzymes that help the cell kill and digest microorganisms it has engulfed by a process known as phagocytosis. The mature neutrophil has a segmented nucleus (it is often called a 'seg' or 'poly'), while the immature neutrophil has a band-shape nucleus (it is called a band). Neutrophils are made in the bone marrow and released into the bloodstream. The neutrophil has a life-span of about three days.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/4/2013

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Neutropenia Treatment

What Is the Treatment for Neutropenia?

Treatments that directly address neutropenia may include (note that all of these treatments may not be appropriate in a given setting):

  • antibiotic and/or antifungal medications to help fight infections;
  • administration of white blood cells growth factors (such as recombinant granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF, filgrastim) in some cases of severe neutropenia;
  • granulocyte transfusions; or
  • corticosteroid therapy or intravenous immune globulin for some cases of immune-mediated neutropenia.