A marked decrease in the number of granulocytes. Granulocytes are a type of white blood cell filled with microscopic granules that are little sacs containing enzymes that digest microorganisms.
Granulocytes are part of the innate, somewhat non specific infection-fighting immune system. They do not respond exclusively to specific antigens, as do B-cells and T-cells.
Granulocytopenia or, as it is also called, agranulocytosis results in a syndrome of frequent chronic bacterial infections of the skin, lungs, throat etc. Although “agranulocytosis” literally means no granulocytes, there may, in fact, be some granulocytes but too few of them, i.e. granulocytopenia.
Granulocytopenia can be genetic and inherited or it can be acquired as, for example, an aspect of leukemia.
Neutrophils, eosinophils and basophils are all types of granulocytes. They are named by the staining features of their granules in the laboratory:
- Neutrophils have “neutral” subtle granules;
- Eosinophils have prominent granules that stain readily with the acid dye eosin; and
- Basophils have prominent granules that stain readily basic (non acidic) dyes.
This classification dates back to a time when certain structures could be identified in cells by histochemistry, but the functions of these intracellular structures were still not yet fathomed.
However, the classification of granulocytes into neutrophils, eosinophils and basophils is still widely used (and quite useful).
Granulocytopenia can therefore more specifically involve neutropenia (shortage of neutrophils), eosinopenia and/or basopenia. The term “neutropenia” is sometimes used interchangeably with granulocytopenia or agranulocytosis.
This medical condition is when there is a decrease in the number of white blood cells, also referred to as granulocytes, which appear covered with granules when you look at them under a microscope.
It is referred to as agranulocytosis it means that there are no granulocytes in your white blood cells.
In the white blood cell group there are three different types, which are:
- Basophiles – this is an extremely rare white blood cell and makes up less than one percent of all the white blood cells in your body. These initiate inflammatory responses.
- Neutrophils – this is one of the most common types of white blood cells and is used for fighting disease by consuming foreign cells the body perceives as a threat.
- Eosinophils – this is the type of white blood cell that is involve in immune system responses and increase when you have an allergic reaction.
- Granulocytopenia can happen to anyone of any age, race, or gender but seems to affect Yemenite Jews and African-Americans the most.
Symptoms of Granulocytopenia
Because granulocytopenia affects your white blood cells persons who have this medical condition will usually have a higher risk of infections. Some of the symptoms can include:
Having recurring or chronic infections that can be viral, bacterial, or fungal in nature. These infections can affect your lungs, throat, skin, etc.
- Running a low-grade fever
- Gum pain that is persistent
- Skin abscesses
- Swollen cervical glands
- Ear and sinus infections
- Pneumonia or bronchitis
If it is a severe case of granulocytopenia a person may have the following symptoms.
- Spleens that are enlarged.
- Exhibit reddish-purple spots on your body which is called petechial bleeding.
- Granulocytopenia Causes
There are many different reasons that can affect this group of white blood cells from existing or developing. Some of the reasons or causes of granulocytopenia can include:
- Certain medical conditions such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and Crohn’s disease.
- Infections or autoimmune disorders that affect the granulocyte count as the white blood cells migrate to the tissues after leaving the circulating blood and are invaded by microbes or disturbance.
- Medical treatment and medications such as steroidal and non-steroidal medications and anti-inflammatory medications.
- Certain medications may diminish granulocyte counts such as certain antihypertensive, cardiac, or antibiotic medications.
- It may be inherited
Any medical disease that causes failure of your bone marrow to produce new cells to replace old cells because white blood cells have a certain lifespan. Some of these diseases include diseases that produce bone marrow tumors or fibrosis, or leukemia.
Having a severe injury that causes a hemorrhage and shock, which will naturally decrease the granulocyte count.
Chemotherapy and radiation which could interfere with new formation of white blood cells or destroy mature healthy white blood cells.
Granulocytopenia is diagnosed by the physician doing a patient history to see if there are precipitating factors that could cause this disorder and looking at your symptoms.
The physician will also do a physical examination to see if there are any underlying disorders. The physician will also order blood tests to check for the white blood cell count and may even need to do a bone marrow test.
The physician may also do a genetic test to see if the disease is inherited.
Before any treatment can be started the physician will need to find out the underlying cause of granulocytopenia and treat that cause. If it is being caused by an infection the physician will usually prescribe anti-microbial medications. If the cause is a medication you are taking all it may take is for the physician to make a dosage adjustment.
It is very important for the physician to identify and eliminate whatever is causing granulocytopenia because if not you will still have granulocytopenia.
The physician may have to stop any radiation or chemotherapy you are undergoing and immediately start antibiotic treatment.
The physician may use a treatment to help stimulate your bone marrow to start producing neutrophils by giving you granulocytemacrophage colony or granulocyte stimulating factors.
In cases of untreated severe granulocytopenia you could die within three to six days so it is very important to be checked out by your physician if you think you have this disorder.