A low white blood cell count usually means your body is not making enough white blood cells. It can increase your risk of getting infections.
How you get a low white blood cell count
Common causes of a low white blood cell count include:
- cancer treatment, like radiotherapy and chemotherapy
- antipsychotic medicines
- medicine for an overactive thyroid
- some cancers, like leukaemia
- infections such as HIV or hepatitis
- autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis
Agranulocytosis and neutropenia are conditions that cause a low white blood cell count.
Check if you have a low white blood cell count
A low white blood cell count does not always cause any symptoms.
The main symptom is getting frequent infections. Signs of an infection may include:
- a high temperature
- chills and shivering
- sore throat
- mouth sores that keep coming back
- skin rashes
- flu-like symptoms
A blood test can tell you if your white blood cell count is low.
Treatment for a low white blood cell count
Treatment for a low white blood cell count depends on what's causing it. Treatment often includes antibiotics.
If it's caused by a medicine or other treatment you're having, you may need to stop the treatment or change your dose.
You may also need specific treatment:
- to boost your white blood cells
- if you've got an infection
Occasionally, infections can lead to a life-threatening condition called sepsis.
Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:
- you know you're at risk of a low white blood cell count and you get an infection
- you keep getting infections
Things you can do to avoid infections
If you have a low white blood cell count caused by illness, cancer treatment or medicine, it's important to take steps to avoid infections.
avoid close contact with people who are sick
store and prepare food properly to avoid food poisoning
wash your hands with soap and warm water regularly
use an electric shaver instead of a razor
avoid shared hot tubs
do not share food, cups, utensils, toothbrushes or make-up
do not eat raw foods like meat, shellfish and eggs
do not change cat litter or handle animal poo
do not change nappies
do not walk outside barefoot
do not swim in ponds, lakes and rivers
Page last reviewed: 28 July 2023
Next review due: 28 July 2026