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Neutropenia (low neutrophil count): Meaning, Types, Symptoms, and Treatment

Team AckoJan 18, 2024

Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell that helps the body fight off infections. When the neutrophil count is low, the body's immune system becomes compromised, making it more susceptible to infections. In this article, we will discuss the meaning, types, symptoms, and other details related to Neutropenia (low neutrophil count).




What is Neutropenia?

Neutropenia (NPN) refers to a condition characterised by a low level of neutrophils in the blood. Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell that plays a crucial role in the immune system's defence against infections. They are responsible for identifying and destroying harmful bacteria and fungi. When the neutrophil count drops below the normal range, it can result in an increased risk of infections.

Types of Neutropenia

There are different types of Neutropenia, including the following.

  • Congenital: This type of NPN is present from birth and is usually caused by genetic mutations. It can be further classified into various subtypes based on the specific gene mutations involved.

  • Chronic Idiopathic: In this type of NPN, the cause is unknown, and the condition persists for an extended period.

  • Autoimmune: Autoimmune NPN occurs when the body's immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys neutrophils.

  • Drug-induced: Certain medications, such as chemotherapy drugs, can suppress the production of neutrophils, leading to drug-induced NPN.

  • Acquired: Acquired NPN can occur as a result of various factors, such as infections, nutritional deficiencies, or certain medical conditions.

Symptoms of Neutropenia

The symptoms of Neutropenia may vary depending on the severity of the condition and the presence of any underlying infections. Some common symptoms include the following.

  • Frequent infections

  • Fever

  • Sore throat

  • Mouth ulcers

  • Fatigue

  • Swollen lymph nodes

  • Poor wound healing

Causes of Neutropenia

Neutropenia can have various causes; here’s a list. 

  • Inherited genetic mutations: Certain genetic mutations can result in congenital NPN, which is present from birth.

  • Autoimmune disorders: Conditions such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and autoimmune NPN can cause the immune system to attack and destroy neutrophils.

  • Infections: Viral infections, bacterial infections, and parasitic infections can lead to temporary NPN.

  • Medications: Some medications, including chemotherapy drugs, can suppress the production of neutrophils, causing drug-induced NPN.

  • Nutritional deficiencies: Deficiencies in vitamins, particularly vitamin B12 and folate, can affect the production of neutrophils.

  • Bone marrow disorders: Conditions that affect the bone marrow, such as myelodysplastic syndrome or leukaemia, can lead to decreased neutrophil production.

Who is at risk?

Neutropenia can occur in individuals of all ages, but certain factors may increase the risk of developing the condition. The following groups of people are more susceptible to NPN.

  • Cancer patients: Individuals undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy for cancer are at a higher risk of developing NPN. These treatments can temporarily suppress the production of neutrophils in the bone marrow.

  • Patients with bone marrow disorders: Conditions such as myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), aplastic anaemia, and leukaemia can affect the normal functioning of the bone marrow and lead to a decreased production of neutrophils.

  • Individuals with autoimmune disorders: Autoimmune diseases like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and Felty syndrome can cause the immune system to attack and destroy neutrophils, resulting in NPN.

  • Genetic predisposition: Certain inherited genetic mutations can increase the risk of developing NPN. 

  • Individuals with viral or bacterial infections: Certain infections, such as HIV, Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), hepatitis, tuberculosis, and sepsis, can cause temporary NPN.

  • Nutritional deficiencies: Deficiencies in vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamin B12, folate, and copper, can impair the production of neutrophils and contribute to NPN.

  • Medications and treatments: Some medications, including certain antibiotics, anticonvulsants, and immunosuppressants, can lead to NPN as a side effect. Additionally, bone marrow transplantation and stem cell transplant recipients are at risk due to the high-dose chemotherapy used in the process.

Treatment options for Neutropenia

The treatment for Neutropenia depends on the underlying cause and the severity of the condition. Some common treatment options include the following. 

  • Treating underlying infections: If an infection is causing NPN, appropriate antimicrobial therapy is prescribed to eliminate the infection.

  • Medications to stimulate neutrophil production: In some cases, medications like granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF) may be used to stimulate the production of neutrophils.

  • Avoiding medications that suppress neutrophil production: If a medication is causing NPN, the healthcare provider may consider adjusting the dosage or switching to an alternative medication.

  • Treating underlying medical conditions: If an underlying medical condition is responsible for NPN, such as an autoimmune disorder or bone marrow disorder, the treatment focuses on managing the underlying condition.

Prevention tips

While it may not always be possible to prevent NPN, there are certain measures that can help reduce the risk or manage the condition.

  • Practise good hygiene: Regular hand washing and maintaining cleanliness can help reduce the risk of infections.

  • Avoid close contact with sick individuals: Limiting exposure to individuals with contagious illnesses can help prevent infections.

  • Follow a healthy lifestyle: Eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep can support overall immune system health.

  • Stay up to date with vaccinations: Vaccines can help protect against specific infections and reduce the risk of complications.

Diagnosis of Neutropenia

To diagnose Neutropenia, a healthcare provider will typically perform the following.

  • Medical history and physical examination: The healthcare provider will inquire about symptoms, medical history, and conduct a physical examination to assess the overall health.

  • Complete blood count (CBC): A CBC test measures the number of different types of blood cells, including neutrophils. A low neutrophil count indicates NPN.

  • Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy: In some cases, a bone marrow aspiration and biopsy may be performed to evaluate the bone marrow and determine the cause of Neutropenia.

Prognosis of Neutropenia

The prognosis of Neutropenia depends on the underlying cause and the severity of the condition. In many cases, NPN can be managed effectively with appropriate treatment and preventive measures. However, severe or chronic NPN may require ongoing medical care and monitoring.

When to see a doctor?

It is important to consult a healthcare provider if any of the following apply.

  • Experiencing recurrent or severe infections

  • Persistently low-grade fever

  • Unexplained fatigue or weakness

  • Swollen lymph nodes

  • Persistent mouth ulcers

  • Poor wound healing

Frequently Asked Questions

Here’s a list of FAQs related to Neutropenia.


Can Neutropenia be cured?

The treatment for NPN depends on the underlying cause. In some cases, the condition can be managed effectively, but a complete cure may not always be possible.

Is Neutropenia a form of cancer?

Neutropenia itself is not a form of cancer. However, it can be associated with certain types of cancer or bone marrow disorders.

Can Neutropenia be inherited?

Yes, certain forms of NPN are inherited and result from genetic mutations.

Can medications cause Neutropenia?

Yes, certain medications, particularly chemotherapy drugs, can suppress the production of neutrophils and lead to drug-induced NPN.

Can Neutropenia increase the risk of infections?

Yes, NPN can increase the risk of infections as the body's ability to fight off infections is compromised due to a low neutrophil count.


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