Neutropenia- Sign and Symptoms, Causes, Risk Factors and Prevention

Neutropenia is a very rare blood disorder blood that produces a decreased number of neutrophils, or a complete lack. Neutrophils are a type of blood cell that protects the body from bacterial infections. Neutropenia types include Congenital, Idiopathic, Cyclic, and Autoimmune. The symptoms experienced by patients depend on the Neutropenia level. The smaller the number of neutrophils the greater the chance of infection. Infections can be life-threatening and a doctor should see the patient as soon as possible if the patient shows any signs or symptoms of an infection.

Signs and symptoms

Children with neutropenia tend to develop infections with ease because their white blood cell count is too low to prevent bacteria from developing. Most diseases occur in the lungs, ears, throat, sinuses, and skin. Many patients have severe oral ulcers, gum infections, ear infections, periodontal disease, or tissue disease that affects the teeth and urinary tract infections, colon, rectum, or reproductive tract.

Other symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Shaking chills
  • Sore throat
  • Cough or shortness of breath
  • Nasal congestion
  • Diarrhea or loose bowels
  • Burning during urination
  • Unusual redness, swelling or warmth at the site of an injury

When to see a doctor

Speak to your health care professional about what the test results say. A neutropenia finding combined with the results from other tests could indicate the cause of your condition. The doctor may also need to retake the blood test to validate the findings or prescribe more testing to find out what the neutropenia is causing.

When you have been diagnosed with neutropenia, call your doctor immediately when you show symptoms of infection including:

•             High fever (100.4 degrees F)

•             Chills and sweats

•             A new or worsening cough

•             Shortness of breath

•             A mouth sore

•             A sore throat

•             Any changes in urination

•             A stiff neck

•             Diarrhea

•             Vomiting

•             Swelling and redness around any area where skin is broken or cut

•             New vaginal discharge

•             New pain

•             Redness or swelling of any area around which the skin is broken or cut

When you have neutropenia, your doctor may prescribe steps to minimize your risks of infection, such as keeping up to date on vaccines, regularly and thoroughly washing your hands, wearing a face mask, and avoiding large crowds and anyone with cold or other infectious diseases.

What Causes Neutropenia?

One with neutropenia has a limited number of neutrophils in the bloodstream (NOO-treh-filz).

Neutropenia can be due to:

  • Infections
  • Medicines (such as chemotherapy)
  • Radiation therapy
  • A genetic (inherited) problem
  • The bone marrow (the spongy portion that makes blood cells inside the bones) does not function well
  • An immune system which attacks neutrophils (called autoimmune neutropenia)
  • Neutropenia may:
  • Be present at birth (congenital neutropenia)
  • Come and go (cyclic neutropenia)

Doctors often don’t know what causes neutropenia (called idiopathic neutropenia) on a human.

Risk factors

Conditions such as increase the risk of neutropenia:

•             Cancer

•             Leukemia

•             A weakened immune system

Also, the risk is increased by chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Idiopathic neutropenia affects patients of all ages but there is a higher risk for people 70 years of age or older. Men and women run the same risk.

Can you prevent neutropenia?

There is no known treatment specific to neutropenia. The National Neutropenia Network does, however, warn that risks should be reduced:

  • Bathe or shower regularly. Pat your skin dry, and add lotion to prevent drying and cracking skin.
  • Using a gentle toothbrush, and gently brush it. Don’t floss. Your doctor can prescribe a mouthwash that is non-alcoholic to help prevent mouth sores.
  • Be mindful of not hurting yourself. Use a razor which is electric. Should not have your cuticles trimmed. Be extra cautious with knives, needles, and scissors.
  • Wash your hands regularly. You may use soap and water, or a hand sanitizer based on alcohol. It’s especially important to clean your hands before you eat; after you go to the washroom; after you touch an animal; and after you sneeze, cough or blow your nose
  • Clean it with warm water and soap straight away if you get a cut or wound. Put a clean bandage over it.

Protect yourself against infection

  • Avoid crowds, and sick people. You would also need to avoid individuals that have had other vaccines.
  • Wear a face mask when you have to go to appointments or to be in public.
  • Use gloves and a mask while gardening or handling rubbish from livestock.
  • Speak to your doctor before you have some flu vaccine.

Be careful with foods

The doctor will advise you how best to treat and prepare foods to help avoid infections. You can need to avoid other foods too. The doctor may advise you, for example, to:

  • Eat fresh meat, fish, and eggs only. Germs that live inside these foods will not always be killed unless the food is completely cooked.
  • Scrub the raw vegetables and fruits before eating them. Germs are not always easy to wash off on fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Avoid foods that may not be well washed, such as raspberries.

Such preventive lifestyle interventions will help you mitigate possible neutropenia complications. Speak to your doctor about any signs and learn how to contact your doctor and hospital at all times.

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