Leukopenia (low white blood cell count) happens when you have a lower-than-normal number of white blood cells. Specifically, you have fewer neutrophils than normal. Neutrophils are white blood cells that act as your immune system’s first line of defense. Without enough white blood cells, you’re more vulnerable to developing infections.
Every day, our bodies produce about 100 billion white blood cells (leukocytes). Leukocytes help defend our bodies against intruders like viruses and bacteria that may cause infections.
In leukopenia (pronounced “luke-a-PEE-ne-ah”), you have lower-than-normal numbers of white blood cells. Specifically, you have fewer neutrophils than normal.
Neutrophils are white blood cells that act as your immune system’s first line of defense. Without enough white blood cells, including enough neutrophils, you’re more vulnerable to developing infections.
A white blood cell count that’s less than 4,000 cells per microliter of blood is a low white blood cell count. Normal white blood cell counts vary depending on age and sex. For example, the white blood cell count for men, people designated male at birth and children is 5,000 to 10,000 cells per microliter of blood. The normal range for women and people designated female at birth is 4,500 to 11,000 microliters of blood.
No, it’s not but there’s a connection between leukopenia and cancer. Cancer treatments may cause leukopenia.
No, but leukemia may cause leukopenia. Leukemia affects your blood cells, including white blood cells. Your bone marrow makes blood cells.
In leukemia, your body makes abnormal blood cells that multiply and divide. The abnormal cells eventually outnumber healthy cells, including healthy white blood cells. That leaves your body with lower-than-normal levels of white blood cells or leukopenia.
Your white blood cell counts frequently rise and fall. Leukopenia happens when the number of white blood cells in your blood drops and doesn’t rise. People with certain medical conditions or receiving cancer treatments often have leukopenia.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
People may develop leukopenia because they have certain medical conditions, take certain medications or have malnutrition and/or don’t get enough of certain vitamins. Medical conditions include:
Leukopenia doesn’t have symptoms but it can cause infections that have the following symptoms:
Healthcare providers diagnose leukopenia by doing complete blood counts (CBCs). They may do additional tests if they think you may have an infection. Those tests may include:
Healthcare providers treat the underlying cause. For example, if you have leukopenia because you have an infection, they may use antibiotics or antiviral drugs to fight the infection. Other treatments may include:
You may not be able to avoid leukopenia. However, taking care of your overall health and avoiding infection are good ways to reduce your risk. Some suggestions include:
Your prognosis, or expected outcome, depends on why you have leukopenia. For example, you may have leukopenia because you have a viral infection. In that case, your white blood cell count should return to normal once you’re over your infection. If your white blood cell count is low because you’re receiving cancer treatment, your prognosis depends on your cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Leukopenia increases your risk of developing infections, so you should contact your healthcare provider if you have leukopenia and think you may have an infection.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Leukopenia happens when your white blood cell levels are lower than normal. There are many reasons why your white blood cell level may drop. For example, you may be receiving life-saving cancer treatment that lowers your white blood cell levels. You may have an autoimmune disorder like lupus. If you have leukopenia, you’re at risk of infections. If you know you have leukopenia, talk to your healthcare provider about ways to fend off infections.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/27/2022.
Learn more about our editorial process.