What are white blood cells?
White blood cells, also known as leukocytes, make up one of the four components of blood. They can rise for several reasons including stress, smoking, allergies, bacterial or viral infections, as well as certain drugs.
White blood cells, also called leukocytes, are one of the four components that make up blood. Of all the blood in the human body, white blood cells only account for about 1%. That doesn't mean they aren't important. They play a crucial role in the immune system. They also help fight off infections and diseases, so having enough white blood cells is essential.
Your white blood cell count (WBC) is the measurement of how many white blood cells are in your body. If your count is low, your immune system is less effective at fighting off bacteria, viruses, or other diseases.
A high white blood cell count, known as leukocytosis, can also be cause for concern. Anyone can have a high white blood cell count. It is typically caused by preexisting infections or other factors.
Signs of a high white blood cell count
In some cases, a high WBC will correct itself. A good example of this is if you have a fever due to an infection. When your body is being attacked, it produces more white blood cells to defend against the bacteria or virus.
In other cases, you may need additional treatment to reduce your white blood cell count. Knowing what can cause a high WBC and the possible symptoms is important in treating it.
The signs of a high white blood cell count can vary. Quite often, there simply aren’t any. That's because the symptoms you experience, if any, typically come from the underlying cause of your high count.
If you have leukocytosis, a medical condition that causes high WBC, you may experience some of these symptoms:
- Bleeding or bruising
- Feeling faint, dizzy, or sweaty
- Feeling tired, weak, or sick
- Trouble breathing, seeing, or thinking
- Pain or tingling in your limbs or abdomen
- Unexplained weight loss or poor appetite
Causes of a high white blood cell count
Your white blood cells can surge for several reasons. Sometimes it’s a reaction to something else happening in your body. Other times, it may be caused by an underlying disease. Here's a list of some common causes of a high white blood cell count:
- Bacterial or viral infections
- Certain drugs like corticosteroids and epinephrine
When to see the doctor for a high white blood cell count
A high white blood cell count is usually no surprise. You will typically have signs or knowledge of an existing condition that points to a high WBC count. Your doctor may perform a WBC test if you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms:
Bowel regularity means a bowel movement every day.
Diagnosis of a high white blood cell count
The only way to truly know whether your WBC is high is for your doctor to request a white blood cell count test. The test will measure the number of white blood cells per microliter in your blood.
The normal range for your WBC is usually 4,500 to 11,000 cells per microliter. Your WBC is generally considered high if it is greater than 11,000 cells per microliter.
Once you have your test results, your doctor will work with you to create the appropriate treatment plan, if necessary. You may also need to take additional tests to better understand your condition.
Treatments for high white blood cell count
The treatment for high white blood cell count is based on its cause. In certain cases you might not need any treatment for your high WBC.
Here are some examples of common treatments for the underlying conditions that cause a high white blood cell count:
- Antihistamines or inhalers for allergies
- Antibiotics for bacterial infections
- Changes to medication if caused by a drug reaction
- Treatment for inflammatory conditions
- Treatment for anxiety and stress
If you've received an official leukocytosis diagnosis, your doctor may also do a procedure called leukapheresis, which decreases your WBC by using a machine to separate and remove the white blood cells from your blood.