What is Leukopenia? - Causes & Types

What is Leukopenia? - Causes & Types
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  • 1:16 Types
  • 3:32 Causes
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Leukopenia is a decreased number of white blood cells. This can leave a person vulnerable to infections. Learn about the different types of leukopenia: neutropenia and lymphopenia and their causes.

Leukopenia

Inside your bones, there are small but productive factories. These factories are called bone marrow, and some of the products that they make are called white blood cells, or leukocytes, which is the more formal name that literally translates into 'white cells.'

Having white blood cells in your body is like having an army of soldiers who are ready to spring into action any time your body is threatened by foreign invaders or an infection. When all these things are working well, you have more than 4,000 white blood cells per microliter of blood. But if something goes wrong, you could experience a decreased number of white blood cells. When your total white blood cell count falls below 4,000 cells per microliter, you have a condition called leukopenia.

This is an easy term to recall if you remember that 'leuko' refers to white, or in this case white cells, and 'penia' refers to a deficiency. So 'leukopenia' literally means a deficiency of white cells. Since we know that white cells are the soldiers of the body that protect against infections, having a low number of white blood cells can leave a person vulnerable to infection. In this lesson, we will take a closer look at some important aspects of leukopenia.

Types of Leukopenia

But before we go into too much detail about this disorder, it will help us to understand a little more about leukocytes themselves. There are five types of leukocytes. They can be easily recalled by using the mnemonic 'Never Let Mamma Eat Beans,' which stands for 'Neutrophils, Lymphocytes, Monocytes, Eosinophils and Basophils.'

Now, any one of these white blood cells can decrease in number. However, monocytes, eosinophils and basophils are found in such low concentrations to begin with that a reduction of these cells does not significantly factor into the overall decrease in the total white blood cell count. Therefore, we do not even have to consider them when looking at the different types of leukopenia. That leaves us with only two remaining cells: lymphocytes and neutrophils.

If you have a decreased number of lymphocytes in the blood, then you have a type of leukopenia called lymphopenia, or lymphocytopenia as it is sometimes called. You can see that this word is a combination of 'lymphocytes' and 'penia.' Because we already learned that 'penia' means a deficiency, we can easily translate this term into its definition - a deficiency or decreased number of lymphocytes.

Now, even though lymphocytes are the second most abundant white blood cell in the bloodstream, their decrease alone is rarely the cause of overall leukopenia, and therefore lymphopenia usually takes a backseat to the main type of leukopenia, called neutropenia.

As you might have guessed, neutropenia is a decreased number of neutrophils. Neutrophils are the most abundant white blood cells and the first to respond to an infection, so their loss is going to have the most dramatic effect on your body's ability to ward off infection. A low amount of neutrophils is typically described as having fewer than 1,700 neutrophils per microliter of blood. If there are fewer than 500 neutrophils per microliter, then you have severe neutropenia. The neutrophil count is so important that some would say leukopenia is almost always due to neutropenia.

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