White Blood Cell Count
A blood sample taken from a vein in your arm or from a finger-prick or in babies a heelprick
The white blood cell (WBC) count indicates the number of white blood cells in a sample of blood. This count provides a clue to the presence of illness. White blood cells are made in the bone marrow and protect the body against infection and aid in the immune response. If an infection develops, white blood cells attack and destroy the micro-organism causing the infection.
How is the sample collected for testing?
The blood sample is obtained by a needle placed in a vein in the arm or from a finger-prick or heel-prick (for newborns).
Is any test preparation needed to ensure the quality of the sample?
No test preparation is needed.
How is it used?
Conditions or drugs that weaken the immune system, such as HIV infection or chemotherapy, cause a decrease in white blood cells. The WBC count detects dangerously low numbers of these cells.
The WBC count is used to suggest the presence of an infection, an allergy, or bone marrow disorder. It is also used to help monitor the body's response to various treatments.
When is it requested?
A WBC count is part of the full blood count (FBC), which is requested for a variety of reasons. Changes in the WBC, whether it is high or low, may indicate a worsening or improvement in a medical condition.
What does the test result mean?
An elevated number of white blood cells is called leucocytosis. This can result from bacterial infections, inflammation, leukaemia, trauma, medication, or stress. A WBC count of 11.0–17.0x109/L cells would be considered mild to moderate leucocytosis.
A decreased WBC count is called leucopenia. It can result from many different situations, such as
- medication, especially chemotherapy, or radiotherapy
- bone marrow disorder
- vitamin deficiency, such as B12 or folic acid
- liver disease
- an enlarged spleen
- occasionally in inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or SLE
- some infections
- diseases of the immune system
A count of 3.0–4.0x109/L cells would be considered mild leucopenia.
Is there anything else I should know?
Increased WBC levels may be seen during the late stages of pregnancy.
If you have had your spleen removed, you may have a persistent mild to moderate increased WBC count.
The WBC count tends to be lower in the morning and higher in the late afternoon. WBC counts change with age with normal newborns and infants typically have a higher WBC counts than adults. It is not uncommon for the elderly to fail to develop leucocytosis (a high WBC) as a response to infection.
There are many drugs that cause both increased and decreased WBC counts.
Are there different types of WBCs?
How do you treat abnormal WBC levels?
The WBCs must be extremely high to require treatment in itself (e.g. 80-500), depending on the white blood cell type. Treatment depends upon the many causes, and is not always required. Bacterial infections usually cause increased WBC counts and may be treated with antibiotics.
Leukaemias may require chemotherapy and other treatments.Low blood counts may also require treatment. Severely low blood counts putting patients at risk of infection (for example after chemotherapy) may require treatment with growth factor injections (GCSF or GMCSF), usually given into the skin.