What is neutropenia?

Neutropenia refers to lower-than-normal levels of neutrophils in the blood. A neutrophil is a type of white blood cell that is produced mainly in the bone marrow. White blood cells in general, and neutrophils in particular, are important for infection control in the body.

Neutropenia can be classified as mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the number of neutrophils in a sample of blood. By many standards, the lowest acceptable limit for adults is about 1,500 neutrophils per microliter of blood. (Some put the cut-off at 1,800 per microliter.) The range of neutrophil numbers in mild neutropenia is 1,000-1,500; the number in moderate neutropenia is 500-1,000; and the count in severe neutropenia is less than 500.

Neutropenia can also be classified as acute (temporary or short-lasting) or chronic (long-lasting), congenital (a condition one is born with) or acquired (a condition that happens over a period of time).

Who is affected by neutropenia?

Neutropenia can happen to anyone. It sometimes results from an infection, but it is also often a result of treatment for cancer. It is estimated that 50 percent of the people who get chemotherapy will develop neutropenia.

Some ethnic groups may have neutrophil counts in the 1,200 range that are considered normal for them.

What are the causes of neutropenia?

Neutropenia happens for one of these reasons: the neutrophils are used up or destroyed faster than they are produced, or the bone marrow does not make enough neutrophils in the first place. There are many factors that fall into these two categories.

Neutropenia can be caused by:

What are the symptoms of neutropenia?

Neutropenia, especially in its mild form, may not have symptoms. If symptoms exist, they could include:

  • Fever
  • Sores
  • Swelling
  • Repeated infections

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