A low white blood cell count usually means your body isn't making enough white blood cells. It can increase your risk of all sorts of infections.
What causes a low white blood cell count?
Common causes include:
- cancer treatment, like radiotherapy
- anti-psychotic drugs
- medication for an overactive thyroid
- some cancers, like leukaemia
- infections such as HIV or hepatitis
- autoimmune disorders, like rheumatoid arthritis
Some groups, such as people of Afro-Caribbean and Middle Eastern descent, often have a low white blood cell count but this is normal and doesn't increase their risk of infections.
"Agranulocytosis" and "neutropenia" are common conditions that cause a low white blood cell count.
Treating a low white blood cell count
A blood test can tell you if your white blood cell count is low.
Your treatment will depend on what is causing your condition and will often include antibiotics.
You may also need specific treatment:
- to boost your white blood cells
- if you've got an infection
Signs of an infection may include:
- high temperature of 38C or above
- chills and shivering
- sore throat
- mouth sores that keep returning
- skin rashes
- flu-like symptoms
Occasionally, infections can lead to a life-threatening condition called sepsis.
Non-urgent advice: See your 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 yourself to avoid infections
If you have a low white blood cell count caused by illness or medication you should 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 and rivers
Page last reviewed: 26 September 2017
Next review due: 26 September 2020