White blood cells fight infections from bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other germs. One important type of white blood cell is the granulocyte, which is made in the bone marrow and travels in the blood throughout the body. Granulocytes sense infections, gather at sites of infection, and destroy the germs.
When the body has too few granulocytes, the condition is called agranulocytosis. This makes it harder for the body to fight off germs. As a result, the person is more likely to get sick from infections.
Agranulocytosis may be caused by:
- Autoimmune disorders
- Bone marrow diseases, such as myelodysplasia or large granular lymphocyte (LGL) leukemia
- Certain medicines used to treat diseases, including cancer
- Certain street drugs
- Poor nutrition
- Preparation for bone marrow transplant
- Problem with genes
People with this condition are more likely to have fevers and infections.
Exams and Tests
A blood differential test will be done to measure the percentage of each type of white blood cell in your blood.
Treatment depends on the cause of the low white blood cell count. For example, if a medicine is the cause, stopping or changing to another drug may help. In other cases, medicines to help the body make more white blood cells will be used.
Treating or removing the cause often results in a good outcome.
If you are having treatment or taking medicine that could cause agranulocytosis, your health care provider will use blood tests to monitor you.
Freifeld AG, Kaul DR. Infection in the patient with cancer. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2014:chap 36.
Maciejewski JP, Tiu RV. Acquired disorders of red cell, white cell, and platelet production. In: Hoffman R, Benz EJ Jr, Silberstein LE, Heslop HE, Weitz JI, Anastasi J, eds. Hematology: Basic Principles and Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 30.
Review Date: 5/20/2016
Reviewed By: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.