Agranulocytosis is an uncommon condition in which bone marrow
doesn’t make enough neutrophils. Neutrophils are white blood cells your body
needs to fight infections. They make up the largest portion of white blood
cells in your body.
Neutrophils are a critical part of your body’s immune system.
They’re often the first immune cells to arrive at the site of infection. They
consume and destroy harmful invaders like bacteria.
Agranulocytosis can enable minor infections to progress into
serious ones. Weak microbes or tiny organisms (germs) that usually cause no
harm suddenly can become strong enough to attack your body.
Are the Symptoms of Agranulocytosis?
The early symptoms of agranulocytosis may include:
- sudden fever
- sore throat
- weakness in your limbs
- sore mouth and gums
- mouth ulcers
- bleeding gums
Other signs and symptoms of agranulocytosis can include:
- fast heart rate
- rapid breathing
- low blood pressure
- skin abscesses
Are the Types and Causes of Agranulocytosis?
Agranulocytosis can be congenital, meaning you’re born with the
condition. You can also acquire it from certain drugs or medical procedures.
Acquired forms of agranulocytosis can be caused by:
- drugs, such as clozapine and antithyroid
- exposure to chemicals, such as the insecticide
- diseases that affect bone marrow, such as cancer
- serious infections
- exposure to radiation
- autoimmune diseases, such as systemic lupus
- nutritional deficiencies, including low levels
of vitamin B-12 and folate
- bone marrow transplants
Are the Risk Factors?
Women are more likely to develop agranulocytosis than men are. It
can occur at any age. However, inherited forms of the condition are more often
found in children. Acquired agranulocytosis occurs most frequently in older
Is Agranulocytosis Diagnosed?
Your doctor will likely take a detailed medical history. This
will include questions about recent drug treatments or illnesses. Blood and
urine samples are needed to check for infection and white blood cell counts.
Your doctor may take a marrow sample if they suspect a problem with your bone
Genetic testing is necessary to check for a hereditary form of
agranulocytosis. You may need to get tested for possible autoimmune disorders.
Options for Agranulocytosis
If agranulocytosis has arisen from an underlying illness, that
condition will be treated first.
If a drug needed for another condition causes agranulocytosis, your
doctor may prescribe a substitute treatment. If you’re taking several different
drugs, you may need to stop taking them. This could be the only way to find what
medication is causing the problem. Your doctor may advise you to take
antibiotics or antifungal drugs to treat infection.
A treatment called a colony-stimulating factor can be used for
some people, such as those who have acquired agranulocytosis from chemotherapy.
This treatment encourages the bone marrow to produce more neutrophils. It can
be used along with your chemotherapy cycles.
Although not widely used, a transfusion of neutrophils may be the
best treatment for some.
Is the Long-Term Outlook for Agranulocytosis?
Without treatment, agranulocytosis can lead to death by sepsis.
However, the outlook is positive if you receive appropriate and timely
treatment. People who develop agranulocytosis following a viral infection often
find the condition resolves itself.
There a Way to Prevent Agranulocytosis?
The only way to prevent agranulocytosis is to avoid the drugs
that may cause it. If you must take a drug known to trigger the condition, you’ll
need to get regular blood tests to check your neutrophil levels. If you have lowered
neutrophil counts, your doctor may advise you to stop taking the drug.