Causes of High White Blood Cell Count

As I always tell our patients at New Hope Unlimited, our immune system is an amazing thing! Vital components of the blood are the white blood cells. They fight infection and are essential for our health and well being. It may indicate an infection if a person has a high white blood cell count. The immune system is working to destroy the infection and it may also be a sign that the person is experiencing physical or emotional stress. Some blood cancers may also show high white blood cell counts.

This might signal that something is destroying the cells faster than they are being made, or that the body is producing too few of the cells. These white blood cells account for about 1% of the total blood cells and are essential to normal immune function. These cells are also known as leukocytes. White blood cells have a very important function in protecting the body from attack that can be from bacteria, viruses or other foreign substances that the body sees as some kind of threat.

Bone marrow continuously produces white blood cells and keeps them ready within the blood and lymphatic systems until they are needed. A large number of white blood cells are produced by most people. Laboratory levels that are considered normal are between 4,000 and 11,000 cells per microliter of blood, but this can vary according to a person’s race.

Several different types of white blood cells are:

  • Lymphocytes that are vital for producing antibodies that help the body to defend itself against bacteria, viruses and other perceived threats.
  • Neutrophils are powerful white blood cells that destroy bacteria and fungi.
  • Basophils alert the body to infections by secreting chemicals into the bloodstream, mostly to combat allergies.
  • Eosinophils are responsible for destroying parasites and cancer cells, and they are part of an allergic response.
  • Monocytes are responsible for attacking and breaking down germs or bacteria that enter a person’s body.

The monocytes travel to other organs, as needed, such as the spleen, liver, lungs and bone marrow, where they transform into a cell called a macrophage that is responsible for many cellular functions. These include removing dead or damaged tissue, destroying cancer cells and regulating the immune response.

An increase in white blood cells (leukocytosis) typically occurs in response to the following conditions: infection, immunosuppression, medications, bone marrow or immune disorder, certain cancers as acute or chronic lymphocytic leukemia, inflammation as that experienced with rheumatoid arthritis, injury, pregnancy, smoking, allergic reactions and excessive exercising.

If levels of one particular type of white blood cells rise, this may be due to a specific trigger as monocytes, lymphocytes, neutrophils, basophils or eosinophils. Those affected by idiopathic hypereosinophilic syndrome may experience symptoms as weight loss, fevers, night sweats, fatigue, coughing, chest pain, swelling, stomach ache, skin rash, pain, weakness, confusion or coma.

Some other imbalances of white blood cells could be a sign of a weakened immune system due to HIV or Aids, leukemia, lymphoma and a number of conditions known as myeloproliferative disorders.

If the white blood cell count is too high it might be indicating there is a problem as cancer or an infection. A blood test can assess the white blood cell count and other tests might be needed to pinpoint the exact cause of the problem.

Dr Fredda Branyon