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What is Lymphocytopenia?

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  • Written By: Jacob Queen
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 19 November 2016
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Lymphocytopenia is a disorder in which the body doesn’t have a sufficient number of lymphocytes. These are white blood cells produced in a person's bone marrow, and they help the body fight off various infections. About 30 percent of all white blood cells are lymphocytes. People with lymphocytopenia have a weakened immune system and tend to get a lot of unusual infections. They may also have difficulty fighting off common infections that would normally be harmless for the average person.

The most common causes for lymphocytopenia are autoimmune disorders like autoimmune immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and blood cancers. Some other underlying causes are inborn diseases like Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome and ataxia-telangiectasia. In general, all the things that lead to lymphocytopenia either make the body produce fewer lymphocytes or destroy lymphocytes that the body has already produced. Some cases are caused by drug reactions, and in those situations, discontinuing the drug should lead to a rapid recovery.

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If a person is diagnosed with lymphocytopenia, a doctor will generally have to do quite a bit of testing to find the underlying cause of the disorder. They will normally start with blood tests, but more complex tests may be required. With so many possible causes, the testing can eventually become fairly extensive. Treatment generally involves focusing on the underlying cause and dealing with any infections patients may be suffering from. Some new treatments are being examined by doctors, including stem cell transplants, but they are still generally experimental.

A diagnosis of lymphocytopenia may require some major lifestyle changes. Someone with a compromised immune system will generally have to worry about infection more than other people. Some of the methods used to reduce a person’s risk of infection include avoiding people with illnesses, washing hands frequently, focusing on dental care and changing eating habits. More frequent vaccinations for things like influenza may also be necessary.

If someone with lymphocytopenia gets any kind of infection, it has to be treated as an emergency. Even minor problems can progress much more seriously for people with this disorder than they would for people with normal immune systems. The long-term outlook for lymphocytopenia sufferers is generally varied depending on the underlying cause. For some individuals, the condition is very mild, and it will go away on its own without any treatment. Other people may find themselves in a life-threatening situation, requiring frequent hospitalization for different kinds of infections.

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