Neutropenia is a hematological disorder characterized by an abnormally low number of neutrophils, the most important type of white blood cell, in the blood.
Neutrophils usually make up 50-70% of circulating white blood cells and serve as the primary defense against infections by destroying bacteria in the blood. Hence, patients with neutropenia are more susceptible to bacterial infections and, without prompt medical attention, the condition may become life-threatening (neutropenic sepsis).
Neutropenia can be acute or chronic depending on the duration of the illness. A patient has chronic neutropenia if the condition lasts for longer than 3 months.
It is sometimes used interchangeably with the term leukopenia ("deficit in the number of white blood cells"), as neutrophils are the most abundant leukocytes, but neutropenia is more properly considered a subset of leukopenia as a whole.
There are numerous causes of neutropenia that can roughly be divided between either problems in the production of the cells by the bone marrow and destruction of the cells elsewhere in the body.
Treatment depends on the nature of the cause, and emphasis is placed on the prevention and treatment of infection.
There are three general guidelines used to classify the
severity of neutropenia based on the absolute neutrophil count (ANC)
measured in cells per microliter of blood:
- Mild neutropenia (1000 <= ANC < 1500) — minimal risk of infection
- Moderate neutropenia (500 <= ANC < 1000) — moderate risk of infection
- Severe neutropenia (ANC < 500) — severe risk of infection.
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Last Updated: Feb 1, 2011