By Mayo Clinic Staff
A low white blood cell count (leukopenia) is a decrease in disease-fighting cells (leukocytes) in your blood. Leukopenia is almost always related to a decrease in a certain type of white blood cell (neutrophil).
The definition of low white blood cell count varies from one medical practice to another. In general, for adults a count lower than 4,000 white blood cells per microliter of blood is considered a low white blood cell count. For children, that threshold varies with age.
Some people who are otherwise healthy have white cell counts that are lower than what's usually considered normal, but which are normal for them.
A low white blood cell count is usually found when your doctor orders tests for a condition you're already experiencing. It's rarely an unexpected finding or simply discovered by chance.
Talk to your doctor about what your test results mean. A low white blood cell count, along with results from other tests, might already indicate the cause of your illness. Or your doctor may suggest other tests to further check your condition.
Because a chronic very low white blood cell count makes you vulnerable to infections, ask your doctor about precautions to avoid catching contagious diseases. Always wash your hands regularly and thoroughly. You might also be advised to wear a face mask and avoid anyone with a cold or other illness.
Jan. 23, 2016
- Kumar V, et al. Diseases of white blood cells, lymph nodes, spleen, and thymus. In: Robbins and Cotran Pathologic Basis of Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2015. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Nov. 18, 2015.
- Marx JA, et al., eds. Anemia, polycythemia, and white blood cells disorders. In: Rosen's Emergency Medicine. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2014. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Nov. 18, 2015.
- AskMayoExpert. Leuokepenia (adults). Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2015.
- Kliegman RM, et al., eds. Leukopenia. In: Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 20th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Elsevier; 2016. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Nov. 18, 2015.
- Berliner N. Approach to the adult with unexplained neutropenia. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Nov. 18, 2015.