White blood cells, which are produced in the bone marrow, are essential in fighting disease and foreign substances that invade the body. Neutropenia, also called agranulocytosis , is a rare condition in which white blood cells are not produced by the bone marrow in adequate amounts or they are destroyed at an abnormally high rate. As a result of this condition, the levels of white blood cells circulating through the body are too low, increasing a child’s likelihood for infection.
Neutropenia can be the result of medications or treatments, such as chemotherapy, or inherited and present at birth. Tumors, infections, aplastic anemia, autoimmune diseases, or fibrosis of the bone marrow can also cause this condition. Your child may be at risk for developing neutropenia if he or she:
- Is taking certain medications
- Is exposed to certain chemicals or radiation
- Has a family history of certain genetic conditions
- Is suffering from any autoimmune disorders
- Has an enlarged spleen
- Has a vitamin B-12 or folate deficiency
- Has leukemia or myelodysplastic syndromes
If your child experiences the symptoms associated with neutropenia , consider seeking the advice of his or her pediatrician. The signs of this condition can be caused by many different illnesses, so do not immediately assume that neutropenia is the culprit. The symptoms may include bacterial pneumonia; bleeding gums; low white blood cell count; sudden fever, jaundice, chills, or sore throat; or infection.
Treatment for this condition depends on many different factors. With the help of an experienced pediatric specialist, you can decide the best treatment plan for your child. Treatments include transfusion of white blood cells, antibiotic treatment, white blood cell-stimulating factors, or the removal of potential causative agents (toxin or medication).
If your child must undergo a white blood cell-reducing therapy, such as chemotherapy, consult with your pediatrician to learn about possible preventive measures that you can take to help avoid this condition. If you have any further questions, contact the healthcare team of Sunrise Children’s Hospital at (702) 731-5437.