Leukocytopenia – increased risk of infection

Leukocytopenia is, in simple terms, a very low white blood cell count. Why this is the cause of increased risk of infection and what to do in case of leukocytopenia, read this article.

What is the cause of leukocytopenia??

Important to know!

Leukocytopenia, in simple terms, is a very low white blood cell count.

Chemotherapy destroys not only cancer cells but also stem cells of the bone marrow that are capable of dividing, an undesirable side effect of the therapy. This hinders the production of white blood cells, the leukocytes.

Even if the cancer is treated with radiation, the bone marrow in the affected area can be damaged and leukocytopenia can develop.

The white blood cells in our body are especially responsible for the defense against infections. They can detect invading bacteria, fungi or viruses and render these pathogens harmless. With leukocytopenia, there is therefore an increased risk of infection for the cancer patient, because the defense system is weakened.

After chemotherapy, the leukocyte count can vary from the normal value between 4.000 and 11.000/μl drop to levels as low as 100/μl. These reactions are known, therefore the leukocyte value is checked regularly during chemotherapy.

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What are the symptoms and what can I do myself??

Affected people usually do not feel anything at first. However, general symptoms such as fatigue, reduced performance and loss of appetite can occur.

The weakened immune system is decisive. Pathogens can more easily enter the body and spread: Infections can occur. Therefore, at this stage, it is very important that you know the signs and symptoms of infection and recognize them early on.

Unfortunately, the decrease in white blood cells cannot be influenced in the course of chemotherapy. Whether and how strong it occurs, is very different from person to person and also depends on the treatment carried out.

What are sensible precautions?

To prevent infections, there are a number of effective precautions:

  • Wash your hands regularly (at least 20 seconds), especially before eating and after bowel movements. If hand washing is not possible (for example, when traveling), a hand disinfectant can be used (for example, Sterillium®, desmanol®, Softa-Man®)
  • Avoid sharp razors, rather use electric razors and depilatory cream
  • Keep fingernails and toenails short and clean
  • Women should use pads during menstruation instead of tampons
  • Avoid large crowds
  • Avoid public transport at peak times
  • Wear a mouthguard (for example from the companies Param, Med-Comfort or Coldex)
  • Wash your dishes and laundry regularly at higher temperatures (at least 60°C)
  • Refrain temporarily from germ-laden foods such as raw eggs (for example, tiramisu), products made from raw meat (for example, ground pork) or even raw milk (here, special caution is required with blue cheese)
  • Protect yourself from injuries (avoid risky sports, wear gloves when washing dishes, etc.).)

When do I have to notify my doctor?

Even if you observe all precautions, there is no one hundred percent protection against infection. Contact your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following infection symptoms:

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