Granulocytopenia (agranulocytosis)

What is a Granulocytopenia?

Granulocytopenia is also called agranulocytosis. It is more of a symptom of another medical condition rather than being a medical condition itself. The body’s immune system fights invading microorganisms that can get the body sick.

White cells are very important weapons in the body’s fight against illness. However, white cells need bags of enzymes called granulocytes to help the white cell destroy invading microorganisms. Bone marrow makes granulocytes for white cells. When a patient does not have or has too few granulocytes, they are suffering from granulocytopenia.

There are many causes of granulocytopenia, including chemotherapy, bone marrow transplants, bad reactions to medications, diseases of the immune systems such as AIDS, other diseases like leukemia and a genetic problem patients can be born with. One or both parents may contribute to a child’s inherited granulocytopenia.

What are the Symptoms of Granulocytopenia?

The most common and often only symptom of granulocytopenia is that the patient becomes sick with many infections.

Symptoms include

Common symptoms of infections include the patient feeling as if he or she had the flu, high fever, chills, sweating, sore throat, bad headaches, swollen glands, ulcers of the mouth and flushing or redness of the face.

Symptoms of infection must never be ignored. Untreated infection can quickly degenerate into potentially deadly septic shock or sepsis. Symptoms of sepsis include fever, confusion, rapid breathing, rapid heartbeat, chills and a skin rash.

Granulocytopenia Causes

Agranulocytosis can be one of two types – congenital or acquired. The congenital type is a condition that babies are born with. The acquired type develops later in life. Acquired agranulocytosis can be caused by an autoimmune disorder, by having chemotherapy, radiation exposure, exposure to DDT or from getting a bone marrow transplant. It can also be caused by leukemia, nutritional deficiencies or a bone marrow disease. Certain infections, such as HIV, can also cause it to develop. Some medications can cause acquired agranulocytosis. These include medications for an overactive thyroid gland, anti-inflammatory drugs and the antipsychotic Clozapine.

Both types of this condition are caused by having a neutrophil count that is far too low. In adults, the healthy range of neutrophils is 1,500 to 8,000 per microliter. In a patient who has agranulocytosis, that count is fewer than 500 per microliter. Patients who have congenital agranulocytosis were born with an abnormality that prevents the bone marrow from making neutrophils or to make ones that don’t fully mature. Patients with acquired agranulocytosis have a triggering condition, infection or surgical cause that results in the same bone marrow problem.

How is Granulocytopenia Treated?

Since the symptoms of granulocytopenia mimic other conditions, a blood test is needed to diagnose the problem.

Treatment includes

Once diagnosed, the patient is usually given antibiotics to fight infections. Antibiotics may be given in pill form or given intravenously if the patient is at risk for sepsis.

Medication for granulocytopenia itself is called granulocyte-colony stimulating factors or G-CSF. As the name implies, G-CSF helps the bone marrow make granulocytes.

In the worst cases, patients need either blood transfusions from a healthy donor or bone marrow transplants.

Granulocytopenia Prevention

There is currently no known way to prevent agranulocytosis. The focus for patients is to prevent infections that are common and dangerous for those with this condition. To avoid infections, wash your hands often with soap and water. Have a good personal hygiene regimen to avoid bacteria and other contaminants on your skin. Avoid anyone who is sick and stay away from crowds. Don’t work with animals, with soil or handle cut flowers. Make sure the food you eat has been thoroughly cooked, and don’t eat raw foods. Handle food properly, keeping foods at the optimal temperatures to inhibit bacterial growth. Prepare food carefully, cleaning surfaces before and after food has been prepared.

Last Reviewed:
October 09, 2016
Last Updated:
December 28, 2017
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