Leukopenia (Leukocytopenia, Leucopenia)

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

White blood cells are the soldiers that constitute the immune system of the human body. In leukopenia there is a diminished white blood cell count. When this happens, the immunity is severely weakened and the individual is at a greater risk of infections. Leukopenia may be caused by diseases, medications, and genetic deficiencies.

White blood cells

White blood cells are also termed leukocytes. The Greek word ‘leuko’ means white and ‘cyte’ means cell. Normally there are around 7000 white blood cells per microliter of blood. This forms around 1% of the total blood volume in healthy adult individuals. A decrease below the lower limit is called leukopenia.

Leukocyte classification

Leukocytes are classified according to the presence of granules within them. The ones with granules are the granulocytes while the ones without are the agranulocytes.


Granulocytes are also called polymorphonuclear leukocytes. These possess granules which are actually membrane-bound enzymes acting on the invading organisms that have been engulfed by the cell.

There are three types of granulocytes that are named according to their staining properties:

  • neutrophils
  • basophils
  • eosinophils


Agranulocytes are also called mononuclear leukocytes and do not have granules in their cytoplasm. These contain some azurophilic granules, which are actually lysosomes that help in killing the invading organism. The cells include lymphocytes, monocytes, and macrophages.

Leukopenia forms

The most common form of leukopenia is neutropenia. Normally Neutrophils comprise about 45 to 75 percent of the total white blood cell count. These are the most important initial fighters of the immune system. They are responsible for fighting bacterial, fungal, viral, and parasitic infections.

Neutropenia raises the risk of bacterial infections. If the condition is not treated early this may lead to life threatening infections, septic shock and even death.

Diagnosis of leukopenia and neutropenia

A complete blood count helps in diagnosis of leukopenia and neutropenia. Neutropenia in adults is defined as an absolute neutrophil count of less than 500 cells per microliter (µL) of blood. Counts less than 1000 cells/µL are dangerous and may raise the risk of infections.

Management of leukopenia

Treatment of leukopenia depends on the cause of the condition. For example, if there is a bone marrow suppression due to medications like anti-cancer chemotherapy, stopping the drug may often cause recovery in the white blood cell counts.

Neutropenia is also associated with radiation treatment affecting the bone marrow. Once the therapy is stopped the counts may recover. Leukopenia caused due to bacterial or fungal infections may be treated with appropriate antibiotics and antifungals respectively.

Those with genetic conditions leading to leukopenia may need granulocyte colony-stimulating factor and other bone marrow–derived growth factors to stimulate production of the WBCs.

Reviewed by , BA Hons (Cantab)

Further Reading

Last Updated: Sep 8, 2014

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  1. Annette Ortiz-Davis Annette Ortiz-Davis United States says:

    I've lived with this for years, Leukopenia goes up and down, but I have to say it seems as I get older it seems to hit me more, I've been down for a couple days and I'm putting it in Gods hands, I hate the dark circles under my eyes and the not being able to rest, the hot flashes and irritability it's pretty much the same symptoms of going through the change, and having a good support system helps I'm very thankful for my family and friends it helps

  2. Rebecca Perez Rebecca Perez United States says:

    I wake up with all the sign and all throug my day , nights with these sight effects and nothing has changed!!  i have had this for many years now and am at the end of my rope!!!  this isn't   the way i can live much longer.
    tired now of pain in my throat and leds and brain!!
    the hot sweats is the least of this illness. GOD help us.

  3. Rebecca Perez Rebecca Perez United States says:

    IT's tuff when you have know one there to talk too regarding what you are going through.
    alone and feel to talk about this to my family is hard cause i feel as if i am just winding and feel so alone with this! the staying home alone as rest of my family are out daily working and just moving forward is hard as no one around that cares to hear or have there own troubles but each day i get up and as for help from GOD as what else can one do ??

    • Patricia NR Patricia NR United States says:

      Rebecca, I totally understand what you are feeling as far as having no one to talk to.  Having a strong support system is so very important as everyone suffering any type of illness really understands.  Unfortunately, I, like yourself, do not have a support system and find myself feeling alone and with no one to talk to.  I know how it feels when well-meaning friends and family say, "I know just how you feel."  But in my heart I know they couldn't possibly and to try to make them mildly understand I feel I am only whining.  And let's be honest...who wants to hear that?  When someone asks you..."How are you doing?"  They don't REALLY want to know.... Smile  Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that you are not alone.  Patricia

  4. Katherine Williams Katherine Williams United States says:

    Finally I have found someone that understand what I am going. I suffer from all the symptoms Annette has plus fatigue. As I read your comments tears are running down my face because until now I felt so alone. Even when I talk to my doctor I feel like to her it's no big deal, just low white cells blood count.  She even told me there was nothing that could be done to increase the cell count.  She gave me many reasons such as bone marrow may not be producing enough white cells or the cells might be maturing early and dying off.  In any case I feel afraid and that I have no control.

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