What is neutropenia?

Neutropenia is an abnormally low number of white blood cells (neutrophils). White blood cells protect your body from infection. When you have neutropenia, you tend to get infections easily because your white blood cell count is too low to fight off germs, such as bacteria.

What is the cause?

Neutropenia may be caused by:

  • A problem you are born with
  • A viral infection
  • Certain medicines
  • Being exposed to chemicals found in pesticides, cigarette smoke, and unleaded gas
  • Not having enough vitamin B-12 or folate (folic acid) in your diet
  • An autoimmune disease that causes your body to mistakenly attack your own tissue
  • Chemotherapy or radiation therapy for cancer

What are the symptoms?

You may not have any symptoms, or you may have symptoms of an infection, which may include:

  • Fever and chills
  • Sore throat
  • Cough or shortness of breath
  • Diarrhea
  • Stuffy nose
  • Unusual vaginal discharge or itching
  • Burning during urination
  • Redness, swelling, or warmth at the site of an injury

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. You will have blood tests.

How is it treated?

Treatment for neutropenia depends on the cause and the severity. You may need to:

  • Take antibiotics to prevent infections.
  • Make changes in your diet or take vitamin supplements.
  • Avoid chemicals or medicines that are known to cause neutropenia.

Medicines may be prescribed to stimulate the growth of white blood cells and help your immune system work better.

Neutropenia related to vitamin deficiency usually goes away after 2 weeks of treatment with vitamins. Other causes may take longer to clear up.

How can I take care of myself?

Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider.

Here are things you can do to try to prevent infection:

  • Wash your hands often with an antibacterial soap, especially before eating and after using the bathroom.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Make sure your food is completely cooked.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Avoid people with colds, flu, or any type of infection or open sores.
  • Try to avoid getting cuts, scrapes, or burns. Use an electric razor instead of a blade.
  • Don’t squeeze or scratch pimples or sores on your skin.
  • Always use a soft toothbrush. Tell your dentist you have neutropenia. You may need to take antibiotics before and after any dental work or cleaning.
  • Avoid vaginal douches, bubble bath, and bath salts.
  • Protect against sexually transmitted infection (STDs) by always using latex or polyurethane condoms during foreplay and sex.
  • Ask your healthcare provider which vaccinations you need to protect yourself.

Ask your provider:

  • How and when you will hear your test results
  • How long it will take to recover
  • If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-05-07
Last reviewed: 2014-05-07
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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