What Does High White Blood Cell Count Mean When Pregnant?

Medically Reviewed on 3/3/2022

What is high white blood cell count when pregnant?

High white blood cell count when pregnant is very likely due to stress from pregnancy.
High white blood cell count when pregnant is very likely due to stress from pregnancy.

Some effects of pregnancy are very obvious, but some are far more subtle. For example, pregnant women experience an average of 50% increase in blood volume. Because you have more blood as a pregnant woman, it’s essential to monitor your blood cell percentages.

White blood cells are a type of blood cell that come from your bone marrow. As part of the body’s immune system, they help the body stay healthy and fight sickness.

Usually, a high white blood cell count means that your body is defending itself from an illness or disease and is under stress. However, during pregnancy, it is normal to have a high white blood cell count reading. After all, your body is under so much stress just by being pregnant. A high white blood cell count on its own is no cause for alarm.

Throughout your pregnancy, your doctor should give you blood tests frequently. Because it is a stressful time for your body, keeping tabs on how your blood is reacting is very important.

Signs of high white blood cell count when pregnant

Usually, in people who are not pregnant, symptoms of high white blood cell count include:

However, during pregnancy, these symptoms may not occur. Medical professionals have their own white blood cell count ranges for people who are pregnant. To find out what is considered a healthy range, talk to your doctor.

Causes of high white blood cell count when pregnant

Every body and every pregnancy is different. There is no one definitive cause for having a high white blood cell count during pregnancy. Just as your body produces as much sweat as it needs to cool you down after exercising or in hot weather, your body produces however many white blood cells it needs to stay healthy.

Most of the reasons that pregnant women might have abnormally high white blood cell counts are why people usually have a higher white blood cell count. Some of those common causes are:

1. Pregnancy itself

There is a lot of stress that comes with pregnancy, both mentally and physically, which can increase white blood cells. When pregnant, it is important to relax and allow yourself time and space to de-stress, both for your body and your mind.

2. Infection

Because white blood cells are part of your immune system, any infection can cause you to have a higher white blood cell count. Anything from a cold to an eye infection will cause your white blood cell count to go up.

3. Autoimmune disease or inflammation

If you have an autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, it causes your body to produce high volumes of white blood cells. Similarly, if you have any inflammation or allergic reaction, your white blood cell count will increase.

4. Leukemia

Leukemia — or cancer of the blood — starts with bone marrow producing a specific kind of white blood cell. Thusly a higher rate of these indicates that you might have leukemia.

It is extremely rare for pregnant women to get diagnosed with leukemia. However, should you be diagnosed with it while pregnant, there are a wide variety of treatment options to keep you and your baby safe.


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When to see a doctor for high white blood cell count when pregnant

To know whether or not you have a high white blood cell count, you have to see a doctor. The doctor will run tests on your blood to determine your blood cell count. If you are pregnant, you should see the doctor at least once a month. At your appointments, your doctor will monitor your blood cell counts and let you know if they think your blood cell count is too high.

Of course, if you have a preexisting condition, infection, or autoimmune disease, you will know what the symptoms of those are and if you should see a doctor for them. If you have an allergic reaction or experience irregular inflammation, you should also see a doctor.

Tests for high white blood cell count when pregnant

To get your blood tested, your doctor or nurse will take a blood sample from you by putting a needle into your arm and extracting a blood sample. After they collect the sample, they will analyze it for white blood cell count, among other things.

There is nothing you need to do to prepare for a blood test. After the blood test, the area where they extracted your blood might be a little sensitive, but it should heal fairly quickly.

Your blood test will be a comprehensive survey, not just for white blood cells but also for other elements of your blood.

Treatments for high white blood cell count when pregnant

Having a higher-than-average white blood cell count is very likely when you are pregnant. It is incredibly stressful — physically and mentally — to be pregnant. Understand that your body is going through many changes and make sure to get adequate rest.

If you have a preexisting condition or develop a condition that makes you have a higher-than-normal amount of white blood cells, talk to your doctor.

Can you live with low red blood cells?

low red blood cell count indicates that you do not have enough red blood cells (RBCs) to carry the amount of oxygen required by your body, which is called anemia.

  • Severe anemia can result in inadequate oxygen levels in key organs, such as the heart, brain, and kidneys.
  • It may increase the burden on the heart to pump more blood to meet the body’s oxygen demand.
  • This may eventually lead to heart problems, such as enlarged heartheart failure, and death.

Low red blood cell counts can have an impact on your quality of life and have been linked to a shorter survival time in cancer patients. It can make you feel extremely weary because your body's cells are not getting enough oxygen.

Anemia symptoms might vary depending on the severity of anemia, its cause, and the presence of any underlying health conditions.

When hemoglobin levels are insufficient and body tissues do not receive enough oxygen, a range of symptoms can occur.

14 symptoms of anemia

The 14 symptoms of anemia may include:

  1. Fatigue
  2. Lack of energy
  3. Malaise
  4. Pale skin
  5. Dizziness
  6. Weakness
  7. Shortness of breath
  8. Increased or irregular heart rate
  9. Low blood pressure
  10. Chest pain
  11. Feeling cold
  12. Headache
  13. Poor appetite
  14. Difficulty concentrating

8 types of anemia

There are several types of anemia depending on their causes, such as:

  • Nutrient deficiency (such as iron deficiency)
  • Blood loss
  • Decreased red blood cell production
  • Increased Red blood cell destruction

A few of the most common types of anemia include:

  1. Iron deficiency anemia: Iron is required for the bone marrow to produce hemoglobin, which allows blood cells to transport oxygen. Low hemoglobin levels are frequently caused by iron-deficient diets or blood loss from menstruation, ulcers, hernias, or colon cancer.
  2. Vitamin deficiency anemia: Vitamin B12 and folate are required for the formation of healthy red blood cells. An inadequacy may impair blood cell formation.
  3. Pernicious anemia: Pernicious anemia is a vitamin deficiency anemia caused by the body's failure to absorb vitamin B12 from the gut.
  4. Aplastic anemia: Aplastic anemia is a disease where the production of red blood cells, as well as white blood cells and platelets, are decreased.
  5. ThalassemiaThalassemia is a genetic blood condition that diminishes the body's hemoglobin production.
  6. Hemolytic anemia: This disorder causes a shortfall by destroying red blood cells (hemolysis) quicker than they are created.
  7. Sickle cell anemia: Sickle cell anemia is a type of hemolytic anemia that is distinguished by hemoglobin deficiency and the early death of crescent-shaped red blood cells. As it is an inherited condition, sickle cell disease usually manifests in the first year of life. The Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC) reported that the severity of the condition varies with people and often worsens with age.
  8. Anemia of chronic disease: This type of anemia is caused by a chronic preexisting ailment, such as chronic renal disease and autoimmune disease (Crohn's disease).

5 causes of low red blood cells

Studies have reported that low red blood cells (RBC) may have many causes, but the most common ones include:

  • Medications: Certain drugs might cause a decrease in the number of red blood cells in the body. These medications include those used in chemotherapy to treat cancer.
  • Genetic conditions: Some types of anemia are genetic and can be passed down through generations. These include thalassemia, sickle cell anemia, and some other hemolytic anemias.
  • Bleeding: Anemia may be caused by blood loss. Excessive bleeding can occur because of illnesses, such as stomach ulcers and cancer. Women who have heavy menstrual cycles may also suffer from anemia.
  • Medical conditions:
    • Mayo Clinic suggests several chronic conditions might cause a low RBC level.
    • Cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and human immunodeficiency virus infection (HIV) or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) are examples of diseases that can reduce the formation of healthy red blood cells, resulting in anemia.
    • The bone marrow, a soft substance at the middle of the bones, produces most red blood cells. A low RBC count can be caused by certain bone marrow disorders, such as leukemia, multiple myeloma, and lymphoma.
    • The kidneys create erythropoietin, a hormone that urges the bone marrow to make more red blood cells. This hormone's production is hampered in those who have kidney failure, resulting in low RBC levels.
  • Nutritional deficiencies:
    • Diets deficient in iron and vitamins might result in a low red blood cell count. A low red blood cell count can be caused by a poor diet and dietary deficiencies.
    • Pregnancy can frequently result in nutritional inadequacies in women, resulting in anemia.
    • Stomach and intestinal surgery reduce iron, vitamin B12, and folic acid absorption. This can result in a decrease in red blood cells.

How to diagnose the presence of low red blood cells

There are mainly two tests that can determine how many red blood cells you have, which include:

Hematocrit (HCT)

This is a measurement of the percentage of blood that is made up of red blood cells. An average hematocrit without treatment is:

  • 36 to 46 for women
  • 41 to 53 for men

Hemoglobin (HGB)

The amount of this oxygen-carrying protein in the blood is measured by hemoglobin. Average hemoglobin without treatment is:

  • 12 to 16 for women
  • 13 to 18 for men

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy affect blood counts. Do not expect your blood counts to be within the average range during treatment. Your doctor will determine what your normal counts should be during treatment.

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What are the treatment options for low red blood cells?

Treatment for anemia can range from nutritional supplements to blood transfusions depending on the cause and severity. In some situations, a doctor may employ supplemental therapies, such as intravenous fluids and pain medicines, to alleviate pain and prevent problems.

  • For patients with iron deficiency anemia, doctors frequently recommend an iron supplement and dietary adjustments to counteract low iron.
  • For other deficiencies, doctors may prescribe vitamin B12, vitamin C, or folic acid supplements.
  • Severe cases or those caused by an underlying ailment, however, may necessitate additional treatments, such as a blood transfusion or a bone marrow transplant.
  • Transfusions of blood are a common and efficient treatment for several kinds of anemia. During a transfusion, clinicians utilize an intravenous line to deliver blood from a suitable donor to a patient. This can replenish the lost blood or increase the number of cells or platelets in the bloodstream, making it a versatile treatment option for a wide range of illnesses. Rarely, blood transfusions can result in an allergic reaction or bloodborne illness.

A doctor may advise you to take specific medications to increase red blood cell production or to minimize iron overload caused by frequent transfusions.

Anemia medications

  • Erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs)
    • Erythropoietin (EPO) is a hormone generated by the kidneys that aid in the formation of red blood cells.
    • It encourages the creation of blood cells with hemoglobin, which permits the cells to transport oxygen throughout the body.
    • ESA can help the body produce more red blood cells.
    • These medications are beneficial for several anemias, but they can cause side effects, such as hypertensionheadaches, body aches, nausea, and vomiting.
  • Iron supplements (ferrous sulfate)
    • These supplements replace the body's iron stores, allowing it to keep creating enough red blood cells and hemoglobin.
    • An adult male's body has 1,000 mg of stored iron, whereas an adult female's body contains 300 mg.
    • Iron should be obtained through a healthy, well-balanced diet generally, but blood loss due to monthly bleeding, gastrointestinal bleeding, or acute injury can quickly deplete these stores.
    • Iron supplements are best absorbed on an empty stomach or with a glass of orange juice, which contains vitamin C.
    • Unlike other vitamins and minerals in the body, iron overdose is possible, so carefully follow a doctor's advice and dosage restrictions.
  • Vitamin B supplements
    • Vitamin-deficiency anemia frequently requires the use of vitamin B12 or folate (vitamin B9) pills, both of which are available over-the-counter at pharmacies and health food stores.
    • Some anemia sufferers only need supplements for a short time, while others need them for the rest of their lives.
    • Although side effects are uncommon, they may include headachedizzinessnausea, and vomiting, especially when taken in excess.

Treatment of anemia is determined by your diagnosis and the degree of your ailment. These treatments will be tailored to your specific diagnosis by your doctor.

The various diagnosis and therapies available are:

  • Iron deficiency anemia:
    • Iron supplements
    • Blood transfusions
    • Treatment of the underlying conditions, such as bleeding peptic ulcers or hemorrhoids
  • Vitamin deficiency anemia:
    • Vitamin B12 injections
    • Folic acid supplements
  • Anemia related to chronic disease:
    • Treatment of the underlying disease
    • Blood transfusions
    • Synthetic hormone injections to boost red blood cell production
  • Anemia related to autoimmune disorders: Drugs to suppress the immune system.
  • Anemia related to bone marrow disease:
    • Medication
    • Bone marrow transplant
    • Blood transfusions to boost red blood cell levels
  • Hemolytic anemia:
    • Spleen removal
    • Drugs to suppress the immune system
    • Blood transfusions
  • Sickle cell anemia:
    • Medications
    • Oxygen supplementation
    • Blood transfusions
    • Multivitamin supplements
    • Bone marrow transplant
  • Thalassemia:
    • Blood transfusions
    • Multivitamin supplements
    • Spleen removal or bone marrow transplant

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Medically Reviewed on 3/3/2022
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