What is lymphocytopenia?

Lymphocytes are white blood cells which help protect the body against infection. Lymphocytopenia, or lymphopenia, is a disease in which a person’s blood does not contain enough lymphocytes.

Lymphocytopenia isn’t actually causing symptoms by itself. Persons who have small lymphocyte levels, however, are at increased risk of infection from viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites.

This article outlines the concept of lymphocytopenia, its causes and symptoms.

They also explore how physicians are diagnosing and treating lymphocytopenia, and the future for the condition.

What is lymphocytopenia?

A lady having fever
A person with lymphocytopenia may experience fever, a cough, and swelling in the joints.

Lymphocytopenia refers to an absence of blood stream lymphocytes. The normal range of lymphocyte levels in the blood differs among adults and children.

For adults, lymphocytopenia occurs when the total number of lymphocytes falls below 1,000 per microliter of blood. Lymphocytopenia occurs for children when the number drops below 3,000.

There are three principal factors that can cause lymphocyte levels to drop. Such are:

  • slow production of lymphocytes
  • excessive destruction of lymphocytes
  • capture of lymphocytes by the spleen or lymph nodes while filtering the blood

Learning and managing lymphocytopenia depends on figuring out what has triggered excessive lymphocyte development, destruction or capture. There may be more than one factor involved in some cases.

Causes

Lymphocytopenia is a condition people develop, most of the time. Sometimes it can be present from birth though.

Some factors which may contribute to the acquisition of lymphocytopenia include:

  • fasting or malnutrition
  • severe physical stress
  • cancer treatments, such as radiation therapy, and chemotherapy
  • use of steroids
  • autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus
  • blood disorders, such as Hodgkin’s disease and aplastic anemia
  • infectious diseases, such as HIV, tuberculosis, and viral hepatitis

In 2017, a small group of researchers indicated that lymphocytopenia may result from lack of sleep. They based the recommendation on a single case study, however. Therefore further research is needed to create this potential link.

Though rare, he may also be predisposed to lymphocytopenia by the following inherited conditions:

  • DiGeorge anomaly
  • Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome
  • severe combined immunodeficiency syndrome
  • ataxia-telangiectasia

Symptoms

In many cases, lymphocytopenia does not present noticeable symptoms. Certain people even learn they have the illness for other reasons during exams.

When symptoms do develop, they may include:

  • fever
  • cough
  • runny nose
  • skin rash
  • infections that do not get better
  • swelling in the spleen or lymph nodes
  • swelling in the joints

Treatment

Lymphocytopenia care is intended to bring back the lymphocyte levels within the healthy range. This will include detecting and treating low lymphocyte levels caused by them.

Treatment may involve:

  • stopping certain medications
  • treating underlying medical conditions
  • following a healthful, balanced diet
  • getting sufficient rest and sleep

The purpose of treatment is to clear up any lymphocytopenia-related infections the person has acquired. The specific treatment depends on the type of disease a person is developing.

Children with severe and recurrent infections will receive Immune Globulin (IG) injections.

IG is a treatment obtained from human blood plasma by health-care workers. IG is rich in antibodies that aid in protecting the immune system.

Current research is exploring whether stem cell transplants in people with severe underlying medical conditions can improve the lymphocyte rates.

Diagnosis

A doctor may begin to diagnose lymphocytopenia by taking a full medical history. This will help them figure out possible causes of lymphocytopenia. Sources of these include treatments for cancer, HIV infection or a family history of blood disorders.

A doctor will then do a physical examination. This will include testing for spleen or lymph node swelling which can both signify infection.

If the doctor suspects lymphocytopenia, one of the following diagnostic tests may be prescribed which can also help to identify the cause:

  • Complete blood count (CBC): A CBC can check the total number of white blood cells.
  • CBC with differential: This test provides a more precise estimate of the different types of white blood cells, including lymphocytes.
  • Flow cytometry: This is a more detailed blood test that measures levels of the different types of lymphocytes, including T cells, B cells, and natural killer cells.
  • Bone marrow analysis: This test checks whether the bone marrow is producing a normal amount of blood cells.

Outlook

Mild cases of lymphocytopenia may be growing by themselves. This is more likely if a patient will identify the cause of the lymphocytopenia and stop it.

Severe cases of lymphocytopenia may lead to multiple sources of recurrent infections. This repetition will weaken the body and in some cases may prove life-threatening.

The following tips can help to reduce the risk of infection in a person with lymphocytopenia:

  • avoid people with contagious illnesses
  • have a seasonal flu shot and pneumonia vaccine
  • wash the hands regularly
  • maintain good oral hygiene
  • eat only cooked foods

Summary

Lymphocytopenia is a condition which is characterized by abnormally low lymphocyte levels in the blood.

Lymphocytes are immune cells which play an important role in protecting the body against infection. Hence people with low levels of lymphocytes are vulnerable to infection.

People can acquire lymphocytopenia, or inherit it. Acquired lymphocytopenia is more severe, with many possible causes.

Mild lymphocytopenia cases may improve either on their own, or with regular care. Severe cases can be more difficult to treat.

For more information about your specific treatment plan and outlook, a person should talk to their doctor.

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