In some people, infections can spread quickly through the body and can lead to a life-threatening condition called sepsis. In addition to some of the above symptoms, sepsis can also cause a fast heartbeat and fast breathing.
Seeking medical advice
Most people at risk of agranulocytosis or neutropenia should already be aware of signs to look out for, and will have been told what to do if they experience them.
For example, if you have been having chemotherapy, your cancer care team may have given you a telephone number you can call if you experience any problems, such as a high temperature.
If you know you are at risk of these white blood cell deficiencies and you start to feel unwell, it's important to contact your doctor or care team immediately.
Sepsis is a medical emergency and should be assessed by a doctor in hospital as soon as possible so appropriate treatment can be started quickly.
Diagnosing and managing agranulocytosis and neutropenia
If your doctor suspects you have agranulocytosis or neutropenia, they will carry out a blood test to check the level of white blood cells in your blood.
If one of these conditions is diagnosed, the treatment and advice offered to you will depend on the cause and severity of your condition.
Reducing your infection risk
You will often be given some advice about ways you can reduce your risk of infection while your white blood cell count is low. This may include:
avoiding undercooked and some raw foods that could lead to food poisoning
avoiding close contact with people you know have an infection
making sure you store and prepare food properly
maintaining good personal hygiene, such as washing your hands with soap and warm water regularly
If you develop an infection, you will usually need to be treated with antibiotics because your body will not be able to fight the infection itself.
Depending on the severity of the infection, you may be given antibiotic tablets to take at home, or you may need to have antibiotics given directly into a vein (intravenously) while in hospital.
In some cases, you may be given a course of low-dose antibiotics to take to stop infections developing in the first place.
Some people may need injections of a medication called G-CSF (granulocyte-colony stimulating factor), which can stimulate the bone marrow to produce more white blood cells.
In very rare cases, you may need to go to hospital to have a type of blood transfusion where you are just given granulocyte cells. Granulocytes for transfusion are ideally taken from a donor who is a friend or relative.
The donor is given corticosteroid medication plus G-CSF, which helps them to produce more granulocytes and increases the number of these in their blood. The donor's blood is then removed and the white cells are separated out for transfusion.
The transfusion is usually given through a tiny plastic tube called a cannula, which is inserted into a vein in your arm.
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