White blood cells are essential to the body. They help to fight infections and help to produce and transport antibodies. White blood cells are also known as leukocytes. They are produced by the bone marrow stem cells. With the occurrence of an infection, white blood cells produced by the bone marrow will approximately double in quantity to enable the body to fight the infection. Once the infection has been controlled by the white blood cells, they will die off. However, a few will remain alive as memory cells in order to fight the same bacteria if it ever re-enters the body. When this occurs they will multiply once more and fight the infection before any harm is done to the body. This is the manner in which immune systems function. Therefore, many will surmise that the more white blood cells in the body, the better placed it will be to fight off infection. However, this is not so. High white blood cell count can be the symptom of another underlying problem.
Types of Leukocytes
There are various types of white blood cells. They are all responsible for protecting the body from disease and infections. These white blood cells are responsible for killing bacteria, fighting allergies and internal and external parasites. Problems can occur if of the number of these white blood cells is higher than the desired level.
- Neutrophils are the most common white blood cell types. They are the most predominant, comprising 50% – 70% of the white blood cells in the body. Neutrophils are phagocytic as they specialize in ingesting other cells. When an infection occurs, the first variety of white blood cells to arrive at the scene is Neutrophils. Once the harmful infection has been ingested by the Neutrophils, these cells will die. Neutrophils in a normal person will range from 3,150 to 6,200.
- Eosinophils make up 1% – 3% of the total white blood cell count. These cells are responsible for causing allergies and other problems that inflame the body if they do not work in the manner that they should. However, Eosinophils are responsible for fighting and destroying foreign invaders. A normal person will have 50 to 250 Eosinophils in the body.
- Basophils come in third as they are the least abundant in the white blood cell count. They make up approximately 0.5% of the total white blood cell count. These white blood cells play a key role in fighting allergies and parasitic infections. Containing vasodilators and histamine, they play a key role in allowing the blood flow to tissues.
Problems Associated with High Leukocytes Count
A count of more than 10,500 white blood cells in a micro litre of blood can be an indication of an underlying problem. This medical condition is known as leukocytosis. High white blood cell count usually indicates:
- an infection and the body’s reaction to it
- a reaction to medication used to enhance the production of cells
- bone marrow disease
- an immune system disorder
In addition to the above reasons for white blood cell count high, there are more specific reasons for a high count of white blood cells. Acute Lymphocytic Leukaemia (ALL) is a cancer that affects white blood cells. A person affected with ALL will produce more than the desired number of white blood cells in the body. However, these white blood cells arising out of ALL are considered abnormal as they are unable to develop and fight infection. As the production of these white blood cells increases rapidly in a person who is infected with ALL, they will soon take over the normally functioning blood cells. By crowding out the good red and white blood cells and platelets, the body will lose its ability to fight infection. This is the most dangerous problem with high WBC in the bone marrow. In addition to the above, tissue damage in a fire, allergies, diverticular disease, stress, latter stages of pregnancy, tuberculosis etc. can all increase the white blood cell count.
Symptoms of Leukocytosis
It is possible for someone to not experience any symptoms even though they are suffering from Leukocytosis. However, there will be associated symptoms that are caused by the conditions that may be leading to Leukocytosis; for instance, Leukocytosis caused by bone marrow cancer or leukemia. Some of the common symptoms associated with patients with Leukocytosis include fever, fainting, bleeding, bruising, losing weight and appetite, pain in arms, abdomen etc. Any of these symptoms can be the cause of Leukocytosis. Obtaining medical advice at this stage is essential to the control of high WBC.
Before treating Leukocytosis, a full blood count report should be obtained to gauge the gravity of the problem. If the white blood cell count high is abnormal, further tests may be required. A bone marrow biopsy will further help to clarify the cause of high WBC. Treating the underlying cause of a high count of white blood cells will help bring it down to normal. Treatment can be in the forms of intravenous fluids, medication, leukocytoreduction, bone marrow transplant or blood transfusions.
High white blood cell count is something that should not be ignored. Since it is related to the body’s immune system, having abnormal counts of white blood cells can compromise the body’s ability to defend itself. Therefore, obtaining treatment as soon as possible may help avoid complications caused by being infected by highly virulent germs or parasitic attacks.