Friday, 20 December 2013

Understanding Neutropenia

Neutropenia is a blood condition, a granulocyte disorder, that characterized by a deficiency of neutrophils, a type of white blood cell that defends the body against bacterial and fungal infections. Granulocytes are a category of white blood cells. They are made in bone marrow. They contain microscopic granules with proteins (enzymes) that digest invading bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites and play a key role in our immune system response. There are three types of granulocytes- Neutrophils, Eosinophils and Basophils. Neutropenia refers to a deficiency of neutrophils only.

There are several types of neutropenia. Some people are born with the disorder, others get it after taking certain prescription drugs, some after becoming ill, and in others patients the cause it not known.

Signs and Symptoms

Most patients with neutropenia are unaware, and only find out after a blood test for an unrelated condition, have a severe infection, or sepsis.

People with neutropenia tend to suffer from infections, chills and fevers more often than others. The patient is more likely to have recurrent bacterial skin or throat infections. The lower the neutrophil count, the greater the risk of (and severity of) infection. Some patients may complain of persistent body aches and pains.

Common infections may suddenly take an unexpected course, in which pus is notably absent. The formation of pus requires circulating neutrophils. However, some neutropenia patients may be prone to skin abscesses.

Diagnosing neutropenia

If the patient has recurrent or unusual infections, the doctor may suspect neutropenia and recommend a complete blood count. If the neutrophil count is low, it indicates neutropenia. Patients receiving radiation therapy or chemotherapy are known to have a higher risk of developing neutropenia, and in such cases, if it does occur, the cause is known. When the cause is not known, the doctor will order diagnostic tests to find out. The patient may be advised to have a bone marrow biopsy to determine whether the problem is inside the bone marrow or outside - is the body not producing enough neutrophils, or are they being used up too fast or destroyed in the bloodstream?

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