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BLOOD >> Test >> White Blood Cells (WBC)

The doctor counts the total number of white blood cells and works out how many different types of white blood cells the patient has. This is called the differential WBC count.

The number of white blood cells may go up and this may be because of a bacterial infection, bleeding or a burn. More rarely the cause of a raised white count is due to leukaemia, cancer or malaria.

A person may lose white blood cells because they have autoimmune problems - this is where the antibodies that should fight diseases attack the body instead. Other reasons for loss of white blood cells include viral infections. More rarely, this can be a side effect of certain kinds of medication.

The results indicate the percentage of each type of white blood cell that is present. Neutrophils can increase in response to bacterial infection or inflammatory disease. Severe elevations in neutrophils may be caused by various bone marrow disorders, such as chronic myelogenous leukemia. Decreased neutrophil levels may be the result of severe infection or other conditions, such as responses to various medications, particularly chemotherapy.

Eosinophils can increase in response to allergic disorders, inflammation of the skin, and parasitic infections. They can also increase in response to some infections or to various bone marrow disorders. Decreased levels of eosinophils can occur as a result of infection.

Basophils can increase in cases of leukemia, chronic inflammation, the presence of a hypersensitivity reaction to food, or radiation therapy.

Lymphocytes can increase in cases of viral infection, leukemia, cancer of the bone marrow, or radiation therapy. Decreased lymphocyte levels can indicate diseases that affect the immune system, such as lupus, and the later stages of HIV infection.

Monocyte levels can increase in response to infection of all kinds as well as to inflammatory disorders. Monocyte counts are also increased in certain malignant disorders, including leukemia. Decreased monocyte levels can indicate bone marrow injury or failure and some forms of leukemia.

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