Neutropenia is a condition of an abnormally low number of a type of a particular type of white blood cell called a neutrophil. White blood cells (leukocytes) are the cells in the blood that play important roles in the body's immune by fighting off infection. Because white blood cells can be affected by many diseases, doctors will often check the "white blood cell count" in evaluating health conditions.
The severity of neutropenia is categorized as mild with an ANC of 1000-1500 cells per mm 3, moderate with an ANC of 500-1000 cells per mm 3 , and severe with an ANC of fewer than 500 cells per mm 3 . The risk of bacterial infection is related to the severity and duration of neutropenia.
Neutropenia can be a serious problem requiring prompt attention. Without proper medical care, patients may find it hard to lead normal lives. Severe cases can be life threatening.
Types of Neutropenia
Severe chronic neutropenia may be present at birth (congenital neutropenia) or may occur at any stage in life (acquired neutropenia). There are four main types of severe chronic neutropenia:
Congenital Neutropenia — a rare inherited form of the disease usually detected soon after birth. It affects children mainly and may result in premature loss of teeth and peremptory gum infections. The most severe form of chronic congenital neutropenia is known as Kostmann’s Syndrome.
Cyclic Neutropenia — tends to occur every three weeks and lasting three to six days at a time due to changing rates of cell production by the bone marrow. It is often present among several members of the same family although improves after puberty in most cases. This is the rarest form of severe chronic neutropenia.
Idiopathic Neutropenia — a rare form of neutropenia which develops in children and adults usually in response to an illness. It is diagnosed when the disorder cannot be attributed to any other diseases and often causes life-threatening infections.
Autoimmune Neutropenia — most common in infants and young children where the body identifies the neutrophils as enemies and makes antibody to destroy them. This form usually lessens in severity within two years of diagnosis.
Symptoms of Neutropenia
Neutropenia can develop suddenly over a few hours or days (acute neutropenia), or it can develop gradually and last for months or years (chronic neutropenia).
Because neutropenia itself has no specific symptoms, it is usually diagnosed when an infection occurs.
- In acute neutropenia, a person can develop fever and painful sores (ulcers) around the mouth and anus.
- Bacterial pneumonia and other severe infections can follow.
- In chronic neutropenia, the course may be less severe if the number of neutrophils is not extremely low, and the course can occasionally be intermittent (cyclic neutropenia).
Treatment of Neutropenia
Treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Neutrophils (and their precursors called stem cells) are constantly being produced and have a short life span. This makes them very sensitive to these treatments. Radiation induced neutropenia is related to the amount of exposure and if the site is an area carrying bone marrow (such as the sternum or skull).