Rheumatoid Arthritis and Low White Blood Cell Count

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Although rheumatoid arthritis (RA) primarily causes joint problem, but the word ‘rheumatic’ means it is related to the abnormality of the body immune system. At advanced stage, it poses the risk of problems that have nothing to do with joint such as hypertension, heart diseases, and eye problems. Over time, it also could pose the risk of developing a condition called ‘Felty syndrome’, a rare disorder characterized by low white blood cell count.

Understanding bone marrow and white blood cells

The bones have a spongy material called bone marrow. It hosts early components to make cells of blood, these are called stem cells.

And then stem cells can be generated into 3 major types of blood cell; red and white blood cells, and also thrombocytes (platelets). Within 24 hours, millions of new blood cells (especially red blood cells) are made.

Normally stem cells will continuously divide to produce new blood cells. This is important to keep the amounts of blood cells circulating in the bloodstream within a normal range. In other words, new cells are continuously required to substitute old blood cells that break down!

As well we know that white blood cells are one of main components of the body immune system. The normal amount of these blood cells is important to help protect the body from infection.

image_illustration286Leukocytes are another alternative name for white blood cells. And there are several types of leukocytes – the following are some major types of them:

  1. Neutrophils, it is very important to help protect the body from infection. Low neutrophil count is medically called as ‘neutropenia’.
  2. Monocytes.
  3. Lymphocytes.
  4. Eosinophils.
  5. And basophils.

Causes of low white blood cell count

Leukopenia is a medical term used to describe low count of leukocytes. It can put you at high risk of infection since leukocytes play a key role in the defense system of your body, as noted before.

The threshold to determine low or normal count of leukocytes can slightly varies from one lab to another. Even in some healthy individuals, their leukocytes count could be lower than normal, too.

But in general, the low count is lower than 4,000 cells in one microliter of blood. This threshold is for adults. In children, it can vary with gender and age.

There are a number of conditions that can lead to leukopenia. But it is usually triggered by one or some of the following:

  1. Problems that cause poor or abnormal function of bone marrow (the place where many components of blood, including white blood cells, are made). These include some congenital disorders, cancer, viral infections, or autoimmune disorders.
  2. Overwhelming infections. As mentioned before, white blood cells are important to fight against infection. But if there are too many infections, this could lead to low count since the use of these cells can be much faster than their production.
  3. Side effect of using certain medications, especially some that could destroy the bone marrow.

Why and how does rheumatoid arthritis cause low white blood cell count?

Anemia is a common problem related to abnormal blood count (especially low red blood cell count) in people with RA. Even about one-fourth percent of sufferers or more are anemic.

You can see more information about the link between RA and anemia in here!

The count of white blood cells in many people with RA is usually normal. But occasionally, RA could cause low count, too – such as neutropenia related to a condition called as Felty syndrome.


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