Neutrophils: Symptoms/Causes For Variation & What You Can Do About It
Given that they are the first line of defence against any infection, a variation in the number of neutrophils can cause or indicate serious health problems. Let us look at what could go wrong and how we can best assist these white blood cells in doing their job. Think of them as powerful soldiers in your body’s perpetual battle against microbial invaders. As part of the innate immune system, neutrophils are the first cells to migrate to a site of infection in your body and kill the attacking organisms, such as bacteria and parasites. They constitute about 50-70 percent of the white blood cells (WBC) in the human body. Etymologically, neutrophil comes from two words - ‘neuter’ in Latin meaning ‘neither’ and ‘philein’ in Greek meaning ‘to love’. In the laboratory, these cells are stained neither by acidic nor alkaline (basic) dyes, but by neutral ones (made up of salts that do not have an electric charge). In other words, they are filled with neutrally-staining granules, which are small pouches of enzymes that allow the cell to destroy an invading micro-organism. Like all WBC, neutrophils are produced in the bone marrow and then transferred into the bloodstream and lymphatic system. As most neutrophils have a lifespan of only a few hours – at best a couple of days – there is a constant demand for new cells to be produced in huge numbers. In fact, in healthy individuals, the bone marrow is known to be armed with a significant reserve of neutrophils in order to deal with any prospective infection. Neutrophils are counted as part of the complete blood count (CBC) test and the WBC differential examination. Typically, the normal range for the neutrophil count is 1500 to 8000. The absolute neutrophil count (ANC) is obtained by multiplying the percentage of neutrophils by the total number of white blood cells. When the ANC is high, the condition is called neutrophilia, while a low ANC constitutes neutropenia. Both conditions call for timely diagnosis and appropriate medical measures. Too much of a good thing A neutrophil level of more than 8000 per microlitre of blood is considered to be neutrophilia. The condition is common during acute bacterial infections and factors that can cause the condition include:
- Rapidly growing, cancerous tumours, or acute haemorrhage (internal bleeding). Conditions such as polycythemia vera (long-term increase in red blood cells and other types of cells), or myeloid metaplasia (where the bone marrow grows in abnormal places in the body) can also be the root cause.
- Severe damage or inflammation of tissues – say burn injuries or heart attack – is known to lead to a high ANC.
- Sudden kidney failure can also up the neutrophil numbers drastically.
- Sometimes, even seemingly harmless activities like an overenthusiastic session at the gym can spike stress levels, thereby bringing up the ANC figures. However, the effect is usually temporary, lasting for not more than half an hour.
- In certain cases where the body finds it difficult to break down fats, ketones (acids and poisonous chemical substances) are produced, leading to a condition known as ketoacidosis that can cause a high neutrophil count.
- Eclampsia (a pregnancy-related complication characterised by high blood pressure and huge amounts of protein in the urine) is also known to trigger neutrophilia.
- Other medical conditions that can cause an abnormally high neutrophil count include mononucleosis (virus infection), hepatitis (liver infection), toxoplasmosis (infection seen in birds, reptiles, and other animals that can also occur in humans) and cytomegalovirus ( a virus that usually causes infections in the eye and abdominal area).
- Certain medications such as corticosteroids and lithium carbonate can lead to a spike in the number of neutrophils in the body. Similarly, a blood transfusion can also trigger neutrophilia.
- Leukaemia (blood cancer) and myelofibrosis (bone marrow is replaced by fibrous tissue) are common causes. Neutropenia is also a side-effect of chemotherapy in many cancer patients.
- In some cases, there may be damage caused to the bone marrow by infections, medications or radiation (cancer therapy).
- One could be born with a congenital condition such as Kostmann’s syndrome (low production of neutrophils), Myelokathexis (failure of neutrophils to enter the bloodstream), or Chediak-Higashi syndrome (massive decrease in white blood cells).
- Sometimes, the culprit could be an autoimmune disorder such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) or rheumatoid arthritis.
- Bacterial infections are also known to destroy these vital WBC in the body.
- Medical procedures like cardiopulmonary bypass or dialysis affect the production of neutrophils, too.
- Medications, such as phenothiazines drugs (used to treat psychosis, allergies and vomiting) and phenylbutazone (used to reduce inflammation of bone joints), are known to bring down the ANC numbers.
- An oft-ignored cause of neutropenia is vitamin B12 deficiency.
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