Neutropenia is characterized by a significant reduction in neutrophils, an essential first line of defense against infections. The main complication of neutropenia is the increased risk of infection and the lack of resources to fight it off.
Most commonly, cancer patients develop neutropenia due to chemotherapy; the drugs involved destroy the neutrophils along with the cancer cells they are designed to kill.
What are neutrophils?
Neutrophils are the most abundant type of white blood cell. They influence the inflammatory response to infection, ingest micro-organisms, and destroy them by releasing enzymes.
Neutrophils are produced in bone marrow, the spongy interior of the larger bones of the body. They are short-lived cells that travel extensively throughout the body; they can enter tissues that other cells cannot penetrate.
Neutrophils are the primary component of pus and are responsible for its whitish-yellow color.
What is neutropenia?
Neutropenia is a condition where there are abnormally low levels of neutrophils in the blood supply. Neutrophils are an important type of white blood cell, vital for fighting off pathogens, particularly bacterial infections.
In adults, a count of 1,500 neutrophils per microliter of blood or less is considered to be neutropenia, with any count below 500 per microliter of blood regarded as a severe case.
In severe cases, even bacteria that are normally present in the mouth, skin, and gut can cause serious infections.
Neutropenia can be due to a decrease in neutrophil production, accelerated usage of neutrophils, increased destruction of neutrophils, or a combination of all three factors.
Neutropenia can be temporary (acute) or long-lasting (chronic). The condition is also split into congenital (present from birth) and acquired neutropenia (develops later in life).
There is a range of neutropenias, including:
- Cyclic neutropenia – a rare congenital syndrome causing fluctuations in neutrophil numbers, it affects an estimated 1 in 1,000,000 people.
- Kostmann’s syndrome – a genetic disorder where neutrophils are produced at lower levels; sufferers are prone to infections from an early age.
- Chronic idiopathic neutropenia – a relatively common version of neutropenia, predominantly affecting women.
- Myelokathexis – a condition where neutrophils fail to move from the bone marrow (where they are created) to the bloodstream.
- Autoimmune neutropenia – when an individual’s immune system attacks and destroys neutrophils.
- Shwachman-Diamond syndrome – a rare genetic disorder with multiple effects including dwarfism, problems with the pancreas, and a low neutrophil count.
- Isoimmune neonatal neutropenia – a condition where a mother’s antibodies cross the placenta and attack the developing fetus’ neutrophils (presumably inherited from the father). This condition generally resolves itself within 2 months of life. It can be asymptomatic or result in sepsis.
Enhancing the Immune System
- Fermented Wheat Germ.
- Mushroom Extracts
- Probiotic Bacteria
- Vitamin E.