Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell and an extremely important part of our immune system as they help our body to fight infection.
Neutropenia is a condition where a person has an abnormally low concentration of neutrophils.
People who have neutropenia have a higher risk of getting serious infections because they do not have enough neutrophils to fight off invading and harmful bacteria, viruses and fungi.
Cancer patients who are receiving treatment can be at risk of neutropenia. Neutrophils are made in the bone marrow and cancer treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy can affect a patient’s bone health thus impacting neutrophil production. Neutropenia is also a common side effect in people with leukemia and can also be caused by solid tumour malignancies if they infiltrate the bone marrow.
Neutropenia is diagnosed by a routine complete blood count (CBC).
Symptoms of Neutropenia
The following are common signs of neutropenia:
- A fever
- Chills or sweating
- Sore throat, sores in the mouth
- Abdominal pain
- Pain near the anus
- Pain or burning when urinating, or urinating often
- A cough or shortness of breath
- Any redness, swelling, or pain (especially around a cut, wound, or catheter)
- Unusual vaginal discharge or itching
Allopathic Management of Neutropenia
The treatment of neutropenia depends on its cause and severity. In some cases cancer treatment may be suspended until neutrophil count rises to an adequate level.
Patients may be given medication to help bone marrow regenerate new neutrophils.
And in cases where a disease has caused the drop in neutrophils, treatment of the disease will occur.
How Can You Support Your Immune System If You Are At Risk of Neutropenia?
Eat a healthy diet
- Protein is the building block for the immune system. Foods such as eggs, quinoa and
lean white meat are good sources
- Zinc is a strong immune booster. Foods rich in zinc include pumpkin seeds, shellfish and
- Omega‐3 fatty acids increase phagocyte activity. Phagocytes are white blood cells that
consume bacteria. Foods include flax seeds, wild caught salmon and chia seeds
- Folate increases neutrophil count. Foods high in folate include leafy green vegetables,
beans, and lentils.
- Stay well hydrated drinking at least 8 glasses of water per day
Wash your hands frequently
Washing your hands helps to prevent the spread of germs to your nose, eyes and mouth. All entry points to your body
Stay away from large groups
You are at greater risk of infection when your immune system is compromised. During this time avoid large groups to help reduce your risk of coming in to contact with potentially harmful germs
Get lots of sleep
Proper sleep is a key piece of a healthy immune system. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night
Neutropenia can be serious. Be aware of the symptoms and contact your doctor if you begin to experience any of them.
Chemotherapy, Radiation, Surgery Natural Strategies for Preparation & Dealing with Side Effects of Cancer Treatments by Cathy Biase BSc., RHN, CPCC