High white blood cell count: 22 Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, 9 Treatments

High white blood cell count can be caused by simple causes like infection and also by serious disorders like blood cancers. So, let’s find out what all causes it.

Our Blood system consists of four main components, White Blood cells, Red blood cells, Plasma and platelets.

Red blood cells are responsible for transportation of oxygen, Carbon dioxide, nutrients and wastes around your body.  Platelets help in clotting when an injury occurs. Plasma is the liquid part of blood.

Contents

What are White Blood Cells?

high white blood cell count
High white blood cell count
Image source: fi.edu

White Blood cells (WBCs) also go by the name Leukocytes. They possess nuclei, unlike Red Blood cells and platelets. Their presence in blood is only 1%. But White Blood cells are responsible for one of the biggest function in the body, defending the body against intruding microbes and pathogens that constantly try to enter your body.

Sometimes a body experiences High white blood cell count. This means that there is an infection and White blood cells are multiplying to improve defences.

High white blood cell count may be temporary or permanent.  Usually, the WBC levels are temporary come back to normal in few hours or days.

However, if the count remains higher for longer periods, it denotes alarming health problems in the body. To understand the causes behind these high levels you need to first know the more about WBCs and its functions.

White Blood Cells and Their function:

Leukocytes (WBCs) travel through the veins and arteries fending of bacteria, virus and other foreign intruders that cause infection and disease.  They reach and protect the areas of the body which are under attack from harmful microbes and foreign substances.

Production and storage:

WBCs are produced in the Bone marrow.  The production in Bone marrow occurs continuously because some WBCs varieties have a very short lifespan of only 1 – 3 days.

WBCs are stored in bone marrow, and lymphatic tissues and are released when the need arises.

How do you determine if there is a High White blood cell Count in the body?

Normal white count of White Blood cells is approximately 100 billion per day.  Lab reports show a High White Blood Cell count if the levels in the blood exceed 11,000 WBCs per microlitre of blood.

Types of White Blood Cells and their area of function:

White Blood Cells are divided into five types based on the function they perform:

Lymphocytes:

These cells produce antibodies as a defence against virus, bacteria and other harmful foreign objects that enter the body.

They are mostly found in lymph nodes, hence the name.  Their percentage is 20% – 40% of total number of WBCS. They are the most important part of White blood cells as they determine the strategy to attack the infection.

Neutrophils:

Neutrophils act as the first point of defence during an attack. The percentage of Neutrophils is higher than other WBC types. 60% of WBCs are of this variety. They destroy and digest invaders like bacteria and fungi.

The pus is formed as the result of this activity of Neutrophils.  If they lose their lysosomes during this process, they disintegrate and die.  The total lifespan of neutrophil cells is 5 to 6 days.

Basophils:

This WBC type rings the alarming bells when the body is under attack.  They produce histamine and heparin both chemicals that are a clarion call for neutrophils and eosinophils to do their duty.  They constitute only 0.5% of the total White blood cells.

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Eosinophils:

Eosinophils are in the department that kills parasites and cancer cells.  They constitute about 2% of the whole WBCs set up.  Their numbers are never constant.  They increase seasonally and during menstruation. Their numbers increase to react to allergies, collagen diseases, diseases affecting spleen and nervous system.

Monocytes:

Monocytes are the longest living entities among the different types of WBCs.  They are involved in the function of breaking down complex bacteria.  They act like a vacuum cleaner and remove the debris resulted from the war between intruders and foreign bodies that just took place in your body.

Causes that lead to High White Blood Cell count in your body:

High White Blood Cell count denotes that your body is under attack from foreign objects like microbes.  It also increases or decreases according to seasons.

The high count could also occur due to more serious problems like cancer and bone disease.  Here is a list of causes that cause WBC count to increase:

Infection:

The first and most common cause of High White Blood Cell count is an infection.  Your body is being attacked by microbes, and the WBC are growing in numbers to combat the intruders.

Bone marrow disorder – myelofibrosis:

Myelofibrosis is a bone marrow disorder that may lead to high white blood cell count. This disorder is not common and causes anaemia, fatigue, enlarged spleen and severe anaemia.

This disease is characterised by bone pain, excessive sweating at night, easy bruising and bleeding.  See the doctor if symptoms persist.

Immune disorder:

Crohn’s disease or Graves disease are two types of immune disorders.  These cause an increase in production of white blood cells.  People with the history of these diseases should constantly monitor count of White Blood cells in the body.

Smoking:

Smoking causes diseases such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).  Here the lung and airways are blocked due to cigarette smoke.   Inflammation occurs in these areas, and the human body produces white blood cells to combat this inflammation.

Allergy:

Allergy is caused by allergens like moulds, weeds, pet dander, dust and grass.  This is usually seasonal but is sometimes non-seasonal too.

Allergens are primarily responsible for the increase in the Eosinophil type of white blood cells.

Medication:

Medication like Dexamethasone, Methylprednisolone and prednisone are known to lead to High white blood cell count in your blood.

Leukaemia:

It is a type of cancer that can cause High White Blood Cell count.  The cells thus produced do not function properly and increase the chance of risk among patients who are affected. They also crowd the blood leaving no room for other blood components like red blood cells and platelets.

There are two types of this diseases – Acute and Chronic Leukemia.

In Acute Leukemia WBC count increases faster and affect the body very quickly.  WBCs in chronic Leukemia increase in numbers, slowly. The bad effect is slow but continuous.  Also, Acute Leukemia is easy to diagnose.

Chronic Leukemia can be recognised only when you go into the second phase of the disease. This is because the symptoms and signs are not obvious in the first phase.

Leukaemia is also divided by WBCs type also.  The two types are Myeloid and Lymphoid Leukemia.  Some of the Leukemia cancers that you should know about are:

Acute Lymphocytic leukaemia (ALL):

ALL is cancer of Blood and Bone marrow.  In this condition, immature WBCs (Blast cells) are produced in large number.  This disease also goes by the name Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia and is common among children.

Acute Myelogenous Leukemia(AML):

AML also goes by various other names like Acute Myeloid Leukemia, nonlymphocytic leukaemia, granulocytic Leukemia and acute myeloblastic leukaemia.  It is caused by an acute increase in some Myeloid White Blood cells.

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia(CLL):

The Chronic variety of Leukemia progresses more slowly than the acute one.  In CLL the Lymphocytic White blood cells increase rather slowly and bring on problems slowly.  This condition is common among the older adults.

Chronic Myelogenous  Leukemia(CML):

CML is the rarest form of Leukemia and rarely occurs in kids.  It mostly affects adults and senior citizens.

Polycythemia Vera:

In this condition, the bone marrow produces too many White blood cells along with Red blood cells and platelets.  The blood becomes thicker and can cause problems like itching, reddishness of arms and legs and gouty arthritis.   This health condition is more common among the elderly citizens.

Increase in a particular type of White Blood cell:

Sometimes only a particular type of White Blood cell increases.  These may denote different scenarios.

Monocyte:

High white blood cell count of Monocyte variety indicates blood disorder immunity problem or chronic infection.

Lymphocyte:

An increase in Lymphocyte White blood cells is called Lymphocytic leukocytosis.  This denotes viral infection like Tuberculosis.

Eosinophil:

Eosinophil white blood cells increase due to allergens, parasites, infection or Asthma.

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If you notice a high white blood cell count of the Basophils variety, be sure there is a thyroid problem.

A higher level of Neutrophils means that your body has experienced a minor infection, inflammation and injury.  The increase of Neutrophil white blood cells can also be due leukaemia or a resultant reaction to some drugs

Injury:

When you fall or hurt yourself, your body becomes susceptible to attack by bacteria and other microbes which try to enter the body through the wound.  Neutrophil WBCs production increase and they are the first defenders on the site of injury.

They secrete hormone indicating injury. Other cell varieties also increase in number to fight the intruders and protect the body against infection.

Increased destruction of White Blood cells:

Sometimes increased destruction due to hemolytic anaemia and idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura ailments may stimulate the Bone marrow into producing higher levels of White Blood cells.

Over-exercising:

Studies show a rapid increase in the number of WBCs after a rigorous workout.   One study showed that marathon runners had 3 times the WBC level than a person at rest.

Pregnancy:

White blood cells increase during pregnancy because the body is in physiological stress on account of pregnancy.

Labor:

Stress is also experienced during labour, i.e. delivery.  The WBC count may touch up to 25000/cumm during labour. It is only after the 3-4 week of delivery that the WBC count comes back to normal levels.

Tuberculosis:

Tuberculosis is infectious and affects a vital part of the body, the lungs.  Bacteria cause this respiratory illness. As this microbe is an intruder, the immunity system of our body becomes overactive to combat it hence the High White blood cell count.

Whooping cough:

If you have whooping cough, then naturally there are chances of High White Blood cell count in your body. Whooping cough is an infection and inflammation, and WBCs are produced in large numbers by our body to combat it.

Inflammation due to conditions like rheumatoid arthritis:

A high White blood cell count causes inflammation and can denote Rheumatoid Arthritis.

Stress:

As you know, stress causes various health problems.  High White blood cell production is one of them.  Stress can mean post surgery distress or excessive exercise or strain due to day to day activity.

Research has been done extensively in this field. Researchers have found that stress automatically increases production of White blood cells.  This is usually a temporary phenomenon, and the WBC count reduces as soon as your stress is gone.

Previous surgeries and treatments:

After any surgery or treatment, there is a lot of dead tissue in the body.  The immune system automatically produces new WBCs to clean-up this dead matter.  Hence there is usually a High White Blood Cell count after surgeries and treatments.

Idiopathic Hypereosinophilic syndrome:

At times, the trigger for High white blood cell count is not found easily.  Doctors call this idiopathic hypereosinophilic syndrome.  This condition is highly dangerous as it denotes severe damage to vital body parts like Heart, Nervous system, lungs, skin and liver.

Radiation:

Persons exposed to radiation and nuclear reactor accident survivors have high white blood cell count.

Genetic disorders:

Disorders like ALL occurs due genetic disorders.  Errors in DNA instigate unhindered growth and division when the cell is supposed to die.  These cells are immature and unable to do the designated function properly.  They also do not give room for healthier cells to grow and work.

Symptoms of High White Blood cell count:

Some of the symptoms of High White Blood Cell count are:

  • Fever
  • Bleeding in the gums
  • Fainting
  • Paleness of skin
  • Lumps in the groin, underarm, around the neck and abdomen due to swollen lymph nodes
  • Breathing problems
  • Fatigue experienced all through the day
  • Frequent nosebleeds

Diagnosis High White Blood cell count:

Blood tests:

Your blood is a good indicator for diagnosing any or every ailment in a body.  This is because it travels to all parts of the body.  During its journey, it collects samples of microbes, dead cells or tissues that can be analysed through a blood test.

Taking a blood test is also easy.  Doctors advise a Blood test as soon as they suspect something is amiss.

There are now automated tests to count the number of White blood cells, especially the blast cells that are present in it.

Bone Marrow Test:

If your White blood cell count is high, your doctor will advise a Bone Marrow test.  A needle inserted into the bone marrow of the hip bone or breastbone to collect a sample check blood cells. It is a risky procedure with duration of more than one hour and is done in extreme cases.

X-Ray and other Imaging tests:

Doctors may advise imaging test like X-Ray, Ultrasound Scan, CT scan (Computerized Tomography) to check High White blood cell count to determine if the underlying cause is cancer.

Spinal Fluid test or Lumbar Puncture test:

A sample is collected from the fluid surrounding the spinal cord to diagnose cancerous WBCs.  The duration of this test is 30 minutes and is conducted by a specialist.  The sample is collected after administrating local anaesthesia.    This is also a risky operation and advised in rare cases.

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Treatment for High White Blood cell count:

Once the necessary tests are done, the Doctor zeroes in on the cause of High White Blood Cell count.  The Doctor will prescribe treatment according to the cause of High White Blood cell count.

Treatment for Leukemia:

In case of Leukemia is deducted the following treatment is advised.

Induction therapy:

The first phase of cancer treatment kills all leukaemia cells to restore normal production of blood cell. Chemotherapy drugs are sometimes administered to kill cancer cells in children and adults.

Consolidation Therapy:

Conduction Therapy Post induction to remove the cancerous balance cells

Maintenance therapy:

The dosage of drugs is reduced, but the duration for taking this drugs may be longer even many years.

Preventive treatment of the spinal cord:

Preventive treatment refers to the injection of chemotherapeutic drugs into the spinal cord to protect it from infection.

Bone Marrow Transplant:

People who have high chances of relapse of cancer are suggested Bone Marrow Transplant. The damaged bone marrow is replaced a new bone marrow received from a healthy donor.

Clinical Trials:

Research is always on to find newer treatments for the dreaded cancer diseases.  Some individuals can be part of this by taking part in these clinical trials.  There are many risks and benefits attached, and it is better to seek the opinion of a Doctor before trying this treatment option.

Radiation Therapy:

X-Rays, protons or other powered beams are used to destroy cancerous White blood cells in this therapy.

Targeted therapy:

This therapy concentrates on destroying specific abnormalities like Philadelphia chromosome.

Leukapheresis:

Leukapheresis is a treatment to remove the abnormal growth of White Blood cells.  It works faster than chemotherapy.  The duration takes about 2 to 3 hours.  The main side effect of this treatment is the reduction in calcium levels in the body.  You may also feel numbness and muscle spasms.

Alternative Medicine:

One can take alternative medicine for minor problems caused due to High white blood cell count.  These include Aromatherapy, Massage, Meditation and Acupuncture.

Food:

In case High white blood cell count does not indicate serious issues like cancer, you can also adopt some food and home remedies to bring them down.   Food that we intake can help a lot in achieving normal WBC counts.  Some foods that have been found useful are as under.

Fibre-rich, low-fat food:

Eating foods that have minimal amounts of fat, salt and sugar is good for health.  This funda works in reducing the High White blood cell count too.  Eat foods that are sources of fibre like vegetables and fruits to maintain beneficial WBC count.  Fast food is best, avoided.

Anti-inflammatory food:

Garlic, herbs, nuts, olive oil, green tea, spices, grapes and vinegar are anti-inflammatory and consuming them can cut down the high production of WBCs in our body.

Antioxidants:

Antioxidants such carrots, tea, grapes, onion, garlic and leek may not directly control the High White Blood cells count.  But they boost the Immunity system and are hence vital for your health.  Consume foods which contain Vitamin C, E and calcium to control blood cell production and improve general health.

Omega -3 fatty acids:

Omega-3 fatty acids improve general health. This nutrient is found in fishes such as trout, Salmon and Herring.  You can also consume walnuts and flax seeds.

Support system:

High white blood cell count denotes small problems like infection and big serious problems like Cancer.  Now Cancer is a disease that involves trauma, pain and psychological problems.  This could cause severe depression, especially among children.

During such times, it is necessary that you surround yourself or your dear ones suffering from these problems with a support system that can make you more positive and get on with your life.

Your support system may include psychologists, therapists, dieticians, social workers, teachers and child-life workers.   Of course, the family is the biggest support system and can get you going when the going gets tough.

The Human body is a highly complex entity.  All the systems in the body are interconnected.  Health problems rarely occur alone.  A symptom of one health issue can be a starting point for another.  Monitor your body closely, and in case you experience any variances.

White blood cells are vital for maintaining overall health as they fend off infection. So if your body shows the symptoms mentioned for High White Blood Cell count – first check if it is temporary.  If they persist, it is better to seek an appointment with your doctor.

References:
  1. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/315133.php
  2. https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=160&ContentID=35
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/high-white-blood-cell-count/basics/causes/sym-20050611
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3422383/
  5. https://www.aboutkidshealth.ca/Article?contentid=926&language=English
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polycythemia_vera
  7. https://www.ebmconsult.com/articles/glucocorticoid-wbc-increase-steroids
  8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_blood_cell#Overview

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