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What Causes Abnormal Lymphocytes?

A diagram of the effects of leukemia, showing a high lymphocyte count.
A diagram showing different types of white blood cells, including lymphocytes.
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  • Written By: Jennifer Long
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 18 September 2014
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There are several causes of abnormal lymphocytes. A few differences distinguish these lymphocytes from their typical counterparts. Lymphocytes can be abnormal if their size, shape, or numbers stray away from normal classifications. Common causes of these abnormalities include any illness, condition, or disease that affects white blood cells. Examples include auto-immune conditions, reactive lymphocytes, and lymphoma.

Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell that falls into one of two groups. Granular lymphocytes are called natural killer cells, while small lymphocytes are made by the lymph nodes and are vital parts of the immune system. Any interference with these white blood cells can lead to abnormal lymphocytes.

Abnormal lymphocytes are found by testing either blood samples or lymph fluid from the lymphatic system. The amount, size, and shape of lymphocytes found in the sample are examined, helping doctors find the reason for the abnormality. Many factors can influence normal lymphocytes.

One of the common causes of abnormal lymphocytes is an auto-immune condition, wherein the immune system attacks itself. The cells of the immune system confuse the body’s cells with invading cells and the immune system kills these cells. Lymphocytes are abnormal in this instance because their count is low.

Lymphocytes that become reactive are also abnormal. In this instance, these white blood cells are exposed to foreign antigens. Upon exposure, the lymphocytes become abnormally large. Hepatitis C and the Epstein-Barr virus can lead to this change in size.

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Lymphoma generally causes T cells and B cells to become abnormal lymphocytes. Lymphocytes become cancerous in the lymph nodes. Typically, lymphoma results from cancerous B cells but can also occur from abnormal T cells.

Lymphocytopenia is a type of disorder that directly causes abnormal lymphocytes. More specifically, lymphocytopenia causes a low lymphocyte count. Lymphocytes can be trapped in the organs of the lymphatic system, produced and destroyed, or not produced at all. This disorder is frequently caused by serious conditions, such as an auto-immune condition.

Viral infections and sometimes leukemia can lead to lymphocyte counts being higher than usual. The presence of virus cells triggers the immune system’s responses. As a response to the invasion, more lymphocytes are made to combat and remove the virus cells, preventing these cells from causing damage.

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