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What is Granulocytopenia?

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  • Written By: Maggie J. Hall
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 17 September 2016
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The term granulocytopenia refers to a decreased number of granulocytes, or the white blood cells that appear covered with granules when viewed under a microscope. The basophils, eosinophils and neutrophils that comprise this cell group are responsible for a variety of the body’s immune functions. A varieties of circumstances can affect these particular developing or existing white blood cells. Autoimmune disorders or certain medical conditions, infections, and medical treatments may all contribute to granulocytopenia. The affliction may be an inherited condition, and certain populations appear more affected than others, including black people and Yemenite Jews.

Basophils initiate inflammatory responses. This response includes releasing histamine, which causes blood vessel dilation, increasing overall circulation and enabling immune defenses to arrive quickly. Eosinophils primarily increase during an allergic reaction, but they also regulate immune cell function, promote tissue repair, and participate in tumor cell destruction. Neutrophils comprise the majority of the granulated white cells and act by consuming foreign cells perceived as being a threat to the body.

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Autoimmune disorders and infections affect granulocyte count as the cells leave circulating blood and migrate to the tissues invaded by disturbance or microbes. Granulocytopenia often appears in persons having Crohn's disease, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. As blood cells have a specific lifespan, diseases causing bone marrow failure interfere with the production of new cells that replace old ones. These diseases include certain types of leukemias, diseases producing bone marrow fibrosis, or tumors. Severe injuries causing hemorrhage and subsequent shock naturally decrease granulocyte count along with other blood cell types as well.

Other granulocytopenia causes include radiation and chemotherapy, which may destroy healthy mature white blood cells or interfere with new cell formation. A long list of over-the-counter and prescription medications can contribute to this form of anemia, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory and steroidal medications. Certain antibiotics, antihypertensive, and cardiac medications have side effects that include diminishing granulocyte counts.

As the condition affects the white blood cell concentrations that provide immunity, persons afflicted generally have a higher risk of infection. Granulocytopenia symptoms include chronic or recurring bacterial, fungal, or viral infections. Individuals may experience low-grade fevers, persistent gum pain, redness or swelling, or skin abscesses. Patients also commonly endure swollen cervical glands, sinus and ear infections, along with bronchitis or pneumonia.

In severe cases, individuals develop enlarged spleens and exhibit petechial bleeding, which appears as reddish-purple spots on the body. In certain instances, granulocytopenia may be treatable after determining the underlying cause. When caused by infections, health care providers typically prescribe anti-microbial medications. If medications are the cause, a dosage adjustment might remedy the problem.

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