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.
What causes a low white blood cell count?
Common causes include:
- cancer treatment, like radiotherapy
- antipsychotic medicines
- medicine for an overactive thyroid
- some cancers, like leukaemia
- infections such as HIV or hepatitis
- autoimmune disorders, like rheumatoid arthritis
Agranulocytosis and neutropenia are 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's 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:
- a high temperature
- 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 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 yourself to avoid infections
If you have a low white blood cell count caused by illness or medicine 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: 11 November 2020
Next review due: 11 November 2023