People with neutropenia have an unusually low number of a type of white blood cells called neutrophils. Neutrophils are cells in your immune system that attack bacteria and other organisms when they invade your body. Thus, the fewer neutrophils in the body, the more vulnerable to infectious diseases.

Generally, neutropenia is defined as 1,700 or fewer neutrophiles per microliter of blood in adults.  Cell count for children varies with age.

Neutropenia may be caused by:

  • Cancer of the bone marrow
  • Congenital disorder characterized by poor bone marrow function
  • Viral infections that disrupt bone marrow function
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Severe infection
  • Drugs

Neutropenia itself is a symptom. In some cases, people only learn they have neutropenia when they have a blood test for an unrelated reason. But people may have other symptoms from infection or the underlying problem causing the neutropenia.

Infections can occur as a complication of neutropenia. They occur most often in the mucous membranes, such as the inside of the mouth and the skin.


This is identified by complete blood count performed from a blood sample.  Differential count can be more specific for a specific type of white blood cell.



When deciding on treatment, health care providers consider the cause and severity of the neutropenia. Mild cases may not need any treatment.  Treatment is based upon the underlying cause, severity and presence of associated infections or symptoms.

Approaches for treating neutropenia include:

  • Bacterial infections
  • Drugs to suppress the immune system
  • A treatment called granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF). This stimulates the bone marrow to produce more white blood cells. It is used for several types of neutropenia, including congenital types. This treatment can be lifesaving in these cases.
  • Changing medications, if possible, in cases of drug-induced neutropenia
  • Treating an underlying infection, if it’s causing the problem
  • Stem cell transplants may be useful in treating some types of severe neutropenia, including those caused by bone marrow problems.

People with neutropenia often need to take special steps to prevent infections. These neutropenia precautions include:

  • Good hygiene, including frequent hand washing and good dental care, such as regular tooth brushing and flossing
  • Avoiding contact with sick people
  • Always wearing shoes
  • Cleaning cuts and scrapes, then covering them with a bandage
  • Using an electric shaver rather than a razor
  • Avoiding animal waste and, when possible, not changing infants’ diapers
  • Avoiding unpasteurized dairy foods; undercooked meat; and raw fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and honey
  • Staying out of hot tubs, ponds, and rivers

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