Lymphocytes play an important role in the body’s immune system. A type of white blood cell, they are responsible for commencing a response to foreign invaders in the body. These cells combat viral or bacterial infections, as well as other infections that may develop. This is the reason why it is important to know the causes of low lymphocyte count as it affects the body’s ability to repel infections. It may also increase the risk of developing Hodgkin’s lymphoma and leukemia.
Acute lymphocytopenia can be caused by intense physical stress, fasting, radiation or chemotherapy, and viral infections that disrupt the bone marrow. With low lymphocyte count, it is hard for the body to combat infections. The body becomes vulnerable to infections caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, or fungi.
Three Types of Lymphocytes
While some lymphocytes work with other cells, some work alone. The three types of lymphocytes are T cells, B cells, and natural killer cells.
- T cells – This type of lymphocytes develop from the bone barrow and migrate to the thymus gland, which is why it is called T cells. It has T cell receptor molecule which is vital in immunity as it identifies antigens and binds with them. T cells destroy infected cells and communicate to other immune cells to coordinate.
- B cells – This type also plays an important role in immunity. They mature in the bone marrow and protect the body from pathogens such as viruses and bacteria. When B cells recognize the molecular signals, they produce antibodies to fight against the infection. Antibodies are specialized proteins that circulate in the bloodstream.
- Natural killer cells – NK cells do not have T cell receptors or antibodies, but these cells play a major role in the host-rejection of infected cells. Natural killer cells circulate throughout the body and may also attach to a cell. NK cells have receptors on the surface which interact with the proteins on captured infected cells. It can also induce infected or cancerous cells to undergo apoptosis (death of cells).
There are many causes of low lymphocyte count. It can occur when:
- The body is not making enough lymphocytes.
- It may also occur even if the body produces enough, but they are damaged or get stuck in the lymph nodes or spleen.
Acquired Causes of Low Lymphocyte Count
Acquired diseases can affect the immune system and may lead to further health conditions. Low lymphocyte can be caused by chemotherapy or radiation, steroid therapy, infectious diseases, autoimmune disorders, and blood diseases. Here are some of the acquired causes of low lymphocyte count.
1. Typhoid fever
Caused by Salmonella typhi bacteria, it is transmitted through consumption of contaminated water or food. It can also be transmitted through contact with an infected person. Most people with typhoid fever can alleviate the symptoms after taking antibiotics. In rare cases, this condition may cause death due to further complications.
High fever, abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation, rashes, swollen abdomen, sweating, dry cough, and headache are the most common signs and symptoms of typhoid fever.
2. Viral Hepatitis
Hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver caused by excessive alcohol consumption, certain medications, and other health conditions.
This is a viral infection that can be transmitted through blood transfusions, breast-feeding, sharing needles, or sexual contact. HIV destroys CD4 cells (a type of white blood cell that fights against diseases). As CD4 depletes in number, it weakens the immune system. A person can have HIV infection before it develops to AIDS.
Some signs and symptoms include fever, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, oral yeast infection, shingles, weight loss and diarrhea. The symptoms of progression to AIDS include recurring fever, soaking night sweats, chronic diarrhea, unusual spots or lesions on tongue, unexplained fatigue and skin bumps or rashes.
This is an infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis. This condition affects the lungs and is the second biggest killer in the world. The symptoms of TB include fever, night sweats, chronic cough, sputum with blood, and weight loss. The infection can also spread to other organs.
People who have active tuberculosis can transmit the disease through the air when speaking, coughing, spitting, or sneezing. Using the same utensils or glasses can also spread the bacteria.
5. Aplastic Anemia
Aplastic anemia occurs when the body stops producing new blood cells. This makes you vulnerable of infections and higher risk of excessive bleeding. It may happen suddenly or gradually over a long period of time. The treatments for this condition include medications or blood transfusions. A bone marrow transplant or stem cell transplant may also be necessary.
The symptoms of aplastic anemia include shortness of breath, fatigue, pale skin, dizziness, frequent infections, bleeding gums and nose bleeds, easy or unexplained bruises, and irregular heart rate.
One of the causes of low lymphocyte count is Myelofibrosis. It is a bone marrow disorder that affects the normal production of blood cells. This condition can lead to enlarged spleen, fatigue, weakness, and severe anemia.
An uncommon type of chronic leukemia, some signs and symptoms of Myelofibrosis include bone pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, easy bruising and bleeding and pain or fullness sensation below the left side of the ribs.
7. Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
This is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the healthy cells of the body. The symptoms may vary from mild to severe. The common symptoms include swollen and painful joints, mouth ulcers, hair loss, swollen lymph nodes, red rashes on nose and cheek, anemia, and fatigue.
Treatments for SLE may include anti-inflammatory medications for painful joints, creams for rashes, corticosteroids to decrease immune response, antimalarial drugs, and targeted immune system agents.
8. Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
Also known as Hodgkin’s disease, it is a cancer of the lymphatic system that is a part of the body’s immune system. The development of this condition can affect the body’s ability to combat infections. In this disease, the cells in lymphatic system grow abnormally.
The signs and symptoms of Hodgkin’s lymphoma may include swelling of the lymph nodes, fever and chills, fatigue, night sweats, weight loss, itching, sensitivity to alcohol, loss of appetite, and itching.
Dengue is a mosquito-borne disease that commonly occurs in tropical areas. Mild dengue results in muscle or joint pain, high fever, and rashes. You might also experience nausea and vomiting, minor bleeding from nose or gums and pain behind the eyes.
Severe dengue causes severe bleeding, hemorrhagic fever and severe abdominal pain. This has to be treated immediately as it can lead to sudden decrease of blood pressure and death.
10. Radiation and Chemotherapy
Strong chemotherapy can lower the white blood cell count in the body. Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation have a higher the risk of infection. During strong chemo, the doctor and care team should observe the count of white blood cells. Signs of infection may include fever, diarrhea, chills, mouth ulcers, vomiting, sore throat or cough, and sores in the throat or rectum.
Other causes of low lymphocyte count include some types of cancer, enlargement of the spleen, sepsis, folate deficiencies, Sjogren’s syndrome, and steroid use. It can also be caused by copper and zinc deficiency.
Inherited Causes of Low Lymphocyte Count
Some diseases that are passed down genetically by parents may be associated with the defection in the genes that affects the production of lymphocytes. These conditions may include:
1. Wiskott – Aldrich syndrome
This is an immunodeficiency disease that makes the body susceptible to viral, fungal, and bacterial infections. People who are suffering from this condition also experience abnormal bleeding. The problems in bleeding are caused by reduced number of platelets. Patients may also develop eczema, a skin disease.
This is an inherited disease that affects the brain as well as other parts of the body. Ataxia-telangiectasia is an autosomal recessive trait that occurs when both parents provided a copy of broken or non-working genes.
Some symptoms may include skin discoloration, decreased coordination, enlarged blood vessels in the eyes, nose, ears, premature graying of hair, respiratory infections, seizures. Other symptoms are abnormal eye movements, slow mental development and sensitivity to x-rays
3. DiGeorge Syndrome
This is a primary immunodeficiency disease caused by a defect in the chromosome 22. It is often characterized by T-cell deficiency and affects the immune system, heart, emotion and behavior. It also results in reduced levels of calcium in the blood. While some symptoms appear at birth, others develop until infancy or childhood.
Some of the signs and symptoms may include bluish skin caused by heart problems, breathing problems, spasms, gastrointestinal problems, frequent infections delayed speech and motor development. Other symptoms are cleft palate, difficulties in learning, underdeveloped ears, chin and wide-set eyes
4. Severe Combined Immunodeficiency
SCID is a group of inherited disorders that results in abnormalities of the body’s immune system. It may lead to malfunctioning or reduced T and B lymphocytes. People who are affected by SCID are highly susceptible to life-threatening bacterial, fungal, and viral infections.
- Life-threatening infections that do not respond to medications (pneumonia, sepsis, meningitis, etc.)
- Chronic skin infections
- Yeast infections
- Liver infection
These are some of the causes of low lymphocyte count. The treatment for low lymphocytes depends on the main cause of the problem. During your treatment, it is important to help your body by eating lots of protein. Make sure that you also consume enough vitamins A and B6.
Include more salmon, chicken, or turkey in your diet to develop lymphocytes properly. Drinking green tea daily and plenty of water can also boost your immune system. To increase the level of zinc in your body, you can consume almonds, oysters, and peanuts.