Neutropenia is a condition in which there aren’t enough neutrophils, which are a type of white blood cell. This leads to increased risk of serious bacterial infections. Neutropenia is diagnosed by a blood test. The treatment depends on the cause of neutropenia and how severe it is.
What is neutropenia?
Neutropenia is not a disease. It is a condition in which there aren’t enough neutrophils.
White blood cells help fight infection, so people with neutropenia are susceptible to infections.
Neutropenia can be:
- acute, meaning it has come on suddenly (and usually goes away quickly)
- chronic, meaning it has been there for a long time
- cyclic, which means it comes and goes
Febrile neutropenia is generally a complication of cancer treatment. It occurs when you have a temperature of 38°C or higher, alongside other signs of infection, such as shivers, shakes and feeling unwell. It is a life-threatening condition requiring immediate medical attention.
What causes neutropenia?
There are many causes of neutropenia.
Some people have neutropenia from birth – this is known as congenital neutropenia.
It can come on after a viral infection, after taking certain medications or because of problems with the immune system.
One common cause of neutropenia is cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy. The chemotherapy kills the white cells while it is attacking the cancer cells. This leaves people on chemotherapy vulnerable to infections.
If you have neutropenia, you might have no symptoms at all.
Some people get bacterial infections on different parts of the body like their skin, mouth area and gums, sinuses or internal organs such as their lungs.
If you have neutropenia and have a fever, you should see your doctor immediately or go to the nearest emergency department.
Neutropenia diagnosis and treatment
Neutropenia is diagnosed by a blood test. Other tests might be needed to find out the cause.
The treatment will depend on the cause of the neutropenia, and how severe it is.
If you have neutropenia, you should try to protect yourself against getting infections. You can do this by:
- washing your hands regularly
- avoiding large crowds
- wearing shoes all the time
- avoiding manicures and pedicures
- eating well and getting enough sleep
If you think you might have an infection, see you doctor quickly or go to the nearest emergency department.
Last reviewed: March 2018