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Neutropenia (Low White Blood Cell Count)

What is neutropenia?

Neutropenia is an abnormally low number of white blood cells called neutrophils. White blood cells protect the body from infection.

Children with neutropenia tend to get infections easily because their white blood cell count is too low to fight germs, such as bacteria. Without enough neutrophils, infections can quickly become life threatening.

What is the cause?

Neutropenia may be caused by:

  • Leukemia
  • Chemotherapy or radiation treatment
  • An infection, such as mononucleosis or tuberculosis (TB)
  • Not having enough vitamin B-12 or folate (folic acid) in the diet
  • An autoimmune disease such as lupus

What are the symptoms?

Neutropenia itself does not cause any symptoms. Your healthcare provider may find that your child has neutropenia from a routine blood test or from blood tests done to diagnose a fever or infection.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history and examine your child. Your child will have blood tests.

If the child’s blood tests show neutropenia, your child may also have a bone marrow aspirate test. Bone marrow is spongy tissue in the center of bones that makes blood cells. For this test a local anesthetic is given to numb the skin and then your provider puts a needle through a small cut in the skin and into a bone, usually the hip bone. The needle is used to get a sample of bone marrow. This test can help your provider learn more about the white blood cell count.

How is it treated?

The 2 main treatments for neutropenia are:

  • Antibiotics to fight infection
  • Medicine to help the bone marrow make white blood cells

Some children may need a bone marrow transplant. This means that bone marrow donated by someone else is put into the bone to help your child’s body make healthy white blood cells.

How can I take care of my child?

Follow the treatment plan.

Ask your healthcare provider:

  • How and when you will hear your child’s test results
  • How long it will take your child to recover from this condition
  • What activities your child should avoid and when your child can return to normal activities
  • How to take care of your child at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if your child has them

Make sure you know when you should bring your child back for a checkup.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2013.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2012-01-20
Last reviewed: 2011-11-14
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.
© 2013 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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