Low lymphocyte count is also known as lymphocytopenia or lymphopenia. It means abnormally low lymphocyte levels in the body. For adults, lymphopenia indicates less than 1,000 lymph nodes per microliter of blood.
Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell that plays a vital role in the body’s immune system. They are responsible for commencing a response to foreign invaders in the body. They can combat viral or bacterial infections and help build your body’s immunity through vaccinations or past infections.
A low lymphocyte percentage indicates an increased risk of infection in your body. Lymphocytopenia can increase the incidence of certain types of cancer, including lymphoma, leukemia, and Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Severe or chronic low Lymphocyte counts may indicate a possible disease or other illness. The opposite is lymphocytosis, which means an excessive level of lymphocytes.
What Is Low lymphocyte Count?
Typically, 15% to 40% of the total number of white blood cells are lymphocytes. Lymphocytes can usually be divided into T cells, B cells, and natural killer (NK) cells. To measure low lymphocyte counts, you should know the normal lymphocyte range.
According to new research, a healthy adult’s average count is 1000-4800 cells per microliter of blood. For children, the normal range is between 3,000 and 9,500 lymphocyte cells per microliter of blood.
If the lymphocyte count per microliter of blood is less than 1000 for adults, it is considered lymphopenia or lymphocytopenia. For children and infants, lymphocytopenia means that the blood lymphocyte count per microliter of blood is less than 3000.
What is Low Absolute Lymphocyte Count?
A low lymphocyte count is equivalent to having a low absolute lymphocyte count (ALC). Absolute lymphocyte count represents the percentage of lymphocytes and the total white blood cell count. The mathematical formula is expressed as ALC = WBC X % lymphocytes. Absolute lymphocyte count can indicate the potential of the human body’s immune surveillance.
Three Types of Lymphocytes
According to new research, there are three main types of lymphocytes: T cells, B cells, and natural killer cells. Some lymphocytes work with other cells; some work alone.
T cells – This type of lymphocyte develops from the bone marrow and migrates to the T cells’ thymus gland. It has a T cell receptor molecule vital in immunity as it identifies antigens and binds them. T cells destroy infected cells and communicate with other immune cells to coordinate.
B cells – This type also plays a vital role in immunity. They mature in the bone marrow and protect the body from viruses and bacteria. When B cells recognize the molecular signals, they produce antibodies to fight 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 significant role in the host rejection of infected cells. Natural killer cells circulate throughout the body and attach to a cell. NK cells have receptors on the surface interacting with the proteins on captured infected cells. It can also induce infected or cancerous cells to undergo apoptosis (death of cells).
Symptoms of Low Lymphocyte Count
Usually, It is challenging to notice low lymphocyte levels because it will not cause any noticeable symptoms. Many people find this problem when testing other diseases. But low lymphocyte counts can weaken the immune system’s ability, leading to frequent infections or making it more challenging to get rid of infections.
In some cases, low lymphocyte count can cause underlying condition symptoms such as swollen lymph nodes, cough, runny nose, a fever, rash, night sweats, weight loss, or painful joints. What causes lymphocytopenia? We will discuss the common causes of Low Lymphocyte Count in the following.
What Does it Mean If Your Lymphocyte Count is Low?
There are many causes of low lymphocyte count. It can occur when the body is not making enough lymphocytes. Even if the body produces enough, it may also occur, but they are damaged or stuck in the lymph nodes or spleen.
Acute lymphocytopenia can be caused by intense physical stress, fasting, radiation or chemotherapy, and viral infections that disrupt the bone marrow. With a low lymphocyte count, it is hard for the body to combat diseases. The body becomes vulnerable to infections caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, or fungi. This is why it is essential to know the causes of low lymphocyte count.
14 Possible Causes of Low Lymphocyte Count
Acquired diseases can affect the immune system and lead to other health conditions. Low lymphocytes 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, Typhoid fever is transmitted through consuming 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
Viral hepatitis refers to liver inflammation when the liver becomes injured or infected. This condition can cause low lymphocyte count and damage to organs.
Hepatitis is commonly caused by a viral infection, including hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E. Other possible causes of hepatitis include excessive alcohol consumption, certain medications, and other health conditions.
Hepatitis treatments are determined by which type of hepatitis you have.
Hepatitis A is a short-term illness that usually doesn’t require treatment. People who develop Hepatitis B and hepatitis C can be treated with antiviral medications. In addition, the vaccine can also be used to treat Hepatitis A and Hepat, itis, and Hepatitis D.
This viral infection can be transmitted through blood transfusions, breastfeeding, sharing needles, or sexual contact. HIV destroys CD4 cells (white blood cell that fights against diseases). As CD4 depletes in number, it weakens the immune system. A person can have an HIV infection before it develops into AIDS.
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 the tongue, unexplained fatigue, and skin bumps or rashes.
Tuberculosis is an infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis. This condition affects the lungs and is the second biggest killer globally. TB symptoms include fever, night sweats, chronic cough, sputum with blood, and weight loss. The infection can also spread to other organs.
People with 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 usually occurs when your body cannot produce enough new blood cells. This condition can lead to low platelets, white blood cells, and red blood cells. Aplastic anemia makes you vulnerable to infections and a higher risk of excessive bleeding. It may happen suddenly or gradually over a long period.
The symptoms of aplastic anemia include shortness of breath, fatigue, pale skin, dizziness, frequent infections, bleeding gums and nosebleeds, unexplained bruises, and irregular heart rate. The treatments for this condition include medications or blood transfusions. A bone marrow transplant or stem cell transplant may also be necessary.
One of the causes of low lymphocyte count is Myelofibrosis. It is a bone marrow disorder that affects the average production of blood cells. This condition can lead to an enlarged spleen, fatigue, weakness, and severe anemia.
This is an uncommon type of chronic lymphocytic 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 body’s healthy cells. 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 the nose and cheek, anemia, and fatigue.
SLE treatment may include anti-inflammatory medications for painful joints, creams for rashes, corticosteroids to decrease the 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 its immune system. The development of this condition can affect the body’s ability to combat infections. In this disease, the cells in the 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 common 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 the nose or gums, and pain behind the eyes.
Severe dengue causes severe bleeding, hemorrhagic fever, and severe abdominal pain. This must be treated immediately, leading to a sudden decrease in blood pressure and death.
10. Radiation and Chemotherapy
Intense chemotherapy can lower the white blood cell count in the body. Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation have a higher risk of infection. Signs of infection may include fever, diarrhea, chills, mouth ulcers, vomiting, sore throat or a cough, and sores in the throat or rectum.
Other causes of low lymphocyte count include cancer, spleen enlargement, sepsis, folate deficiencies, Sjogren’s syndrome, and steroid use. Copper and zinc deficiency can also cause it.
4 Inherited Causes of Low Lymphocyte Count
Some diseases passed down genetically by parents may be associated with the defection in the genes that affect the production of lymphocytes. These conditions may include the following:
1. Wiskott – Aldrich syndrome
This immunodeficiency disease makes the body susceptible to viral, fungal, and bacterial infections. People who are suffering from this condition also experience abnormal bleeding. A reduced number of platelets causes problems with bleeding. Patients may also develop eczema, a skin disease.
This is an inherited disease that affects the brain and other parts of the body. Ataxia-telangiectasia is an autosomal recessive trait when parents copy broken or non-working genes.
Some symptoms may include skin discoloration, decreased coordination, enlarged blood vessels in the eyes, nose, and ears, premature graying of hair, respiratory infections, and seizures. Other symptoms are abnormal eye movements, slow mental development, and sensitivity to x-rays.
3. DiGeorge Syndrome
DiGeorge Syndrome is a primary immunodeficiency disease caused by chromosome 22. It is often characterized by T-cell deficiency and affects the immune system, heart, emotions, 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 signs and symptoms may include bluish skin caused by heart, breathing, spasms, gastrointestinal problems, frequent infections, delayed speech, and motor development. Other symptoms are a cleft palate, difficulties in learning, underdeveloped ears, chin, and wide-set eyes.
4. Severe Combined Immunodeficiency
SCID is a group of inherited disorders that result in abnormalities of the body’s immune system. It may lead to malfunctioning or reduced T and B lymphocytes. People 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
How to Treat Low Lymphocyte Count?
The treatment for low lymphocytes depends on the leading cause of the problem. Typically, mild lymphocytopenia with no underlying cause can improve on its own through diet or lifestyle changes.
For some symptoms caused by lymphopenia, certain antiviral drugs, antibiotics, antifungal drugs, or antiretroviral combination therapy can be used. For lymphopenia caused by genetic defects, it is often necessary to transplant bone marrow or blood stem cells.
It is vital to help your body by eating lots of protein during treatment. Gamma globulin can help prevent infections caused by B-cell lymphocytopenia.
You can also consume some vitamins A, Vitamin D, and B6. According to the journal Nature Reviews Immunology research, vitamins A and D can help produce lymphocyte T-cells and keep your immunity strong.
Vitamin B6 can help improve the body’s immune function and produce lymphocytes in the body. Vegetables, fruits, and grains can be good sources of vitamin B6 in the diet.
In addition, the Intake of a sufficient amount of zinc is also essential to keep the immune system healthy. Zinc can help the body activate lymphocyte T cells. Zinc deficiency can cause frequent headaches, dull skin, hair loss, or indigestion. To increase the zinc level in your body, you can consume almonds, oysters, peanuts, and pumpkin seeds. You can also take zinc supplements.
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.