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Appropriate treatment for leukopenia depends on what is causing a patient’s white blood cell count to drop and may include measures to prevent infection and other complications until it resolves. Numerous conditions and treatments can damage white blood cells or the bone marrow, making it hard for the body to produce more. When a patient presents with leukopenia and the cause is not obvious, some testing may be recommended to find out more and develop a care plan. Treatment for leukopenia can involve addressing the underlying problem while keeping the patient stable.
Certain genetic disorders as well as conditions like bone marrow neoplasms and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) can cause a drop in white blood cells and may necessitate treatment for leukopenia. Patients can also experience this condition as a complication of medication like a chemotherapy medication. In some cases, leukopenia is the result of bone marrow suppression to prepare a patient for transplant. Infections can cause a short-term drop in white blood cells because the body has used them up fighting infectious organisms; these patients may need no special treatment for leukopenia other than supportive therapy while the infection runs its course.
In the cause of a disease causing white blood cells to die off or limiting bone marrow function, treatment for leukopenia involves addressing the disease. This could include chemotherapy and radiation for cancer, medications for conditions like lupus, and options like bone marrow transplants in some cases. These allow donor marrow to start producing new blood cells for the patient to bring the white blood cell count back up. Life-long controls may be necessary; patients with acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), for example, take medications throughout life to prevent complications.
If a medication is causing leukopenia, the situation can be evaluated. It may be possible to switch to another drug that is less likely to cause this side effect, to allow the patient’s white blood cell count to recover. In other instances, the treatment must continue, but the patient will be carefully monitored. Measures to prevent infection, like antibiotics, isolation, and wearing a mask to limit exposure to airborne pathogens, may be recommended. Once the treatment is over, the patient’s bone marrow function should return to normal.
Bone marrow suppression involves deliberately inducing leukopenia as part of a process to kill off cancerous bone marrow cells. The patient may need to enter an isolation room towards the end of the therapy because the body will become so vulnerable to infection. Once the suppression therapy is over, the patient can receive a transplant of fresh marrow, which will start working on production of new blood cells. In addition to potentially curing the cancer, this should also resolve the leukopenia.
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