What is Agranulocytosis Disorder?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Agranulocytosis disorder is a form of leukopenia, or shortage of white blood cells, which involves critically low levels of granulocytes. Granulocytes are specialized white blood cells which support the immune system with a variety of compounds they carry inside their bodies in tiny granules which can burst open as required. This condition may also sometimes be referred to as neutropenia, referencing a specific type of granulocyte found in the blood. A patient with agranulocytosis disorder can face critical health problems, and in some cases, the condition is fatal.

A patient with agranulocytosis disorder may feel run down and develop a high fever if the body has to fight off an infection.
A patient with agranulocytosis disorder may feel run down and develop a high fever if the body has to fight off an infection.

There are two primary reasons for there to be a shortage of granulocytes in the blood. The first is lack of production in the bone marrow, and the second is destruction at a rate which is too high for the bone marrow to make replacements. Sometimes, people develop agranulocytosis disorder spontaneously, but more commonly it is linked with the use of medications and treatments such as sulfonamides, antithyroid drugs, chemotherapy, phenothiazines, or radiation.

Granulocytes are specialized white blood cells which support the immune system with a variety of compounds they carry inside their bodies.
Granulocytes are specialized white blood cells which support the immune system with a variety of compounds they carry inside their bodies.

Patients may display no symptoms at first, but they commonly experience acute infections as a result of the lack of granulocytes to fight infection. Lesions commonly appear in the mouth and along other mucus membranes, and upper respiratory infections are very common. The patient may also feel fatigued or run down, and commonly a high fever develops as the body struggles to fight even the smallest infection.

Chemotherapy treatments have been linked with agranulocytosis disorder.
Chemotherapy treatments have been linked with agranulocytosis disorder.

Doctors can diagnose agranulocytosis disorder with the use of a blood count, in which the levels of white blood cells and granulocytes in particular can be determined. Once a diagnosis is made, the doctor must determine the cause of the condition, as it cannot be resolved without dealing the underlying cause. In the case of agranulocytosis disorder caused by medication, treatment usually starts with withdrawing the medication.

Symptoms of agranulocytosis disorder may include fatigue and weakness.
Symptoms of agranulocytosis disorder may include fatigue and weakness.

The patient is also extremely vulnerable to infection, so isolation is usually recommended to minimize contact with people who could be carrying infections. Antibiotics and aggressive treatment are also used at the slightest signs of infection, to defend the body while it rebuilds its white blood cells. In some cases, a bone marrow transplant may be used so that the patient can start producing more white blood cells, including granulocytes.

Some may develop agranulocytosis as a result of receiving radiation therapy.
Some may develop agranulocytosis as a result of receiving radiation therapy.

Even with the best treatment, agranulocytosis disorder can be deadly for the patient. It may not be possible to address the cause of the condition in time, for example, especially if the cause is not apparent, and even a mild infection can overwhelm antibiotics and kill a patient who lacks granulocytes.

Agranulocytosis disorder is one side effect of chemotherapy that may limit quality of life for some affected patients.
Agranulocytosis disorder is one side effect of chemotherapy that may limit quality of life for some affected patients.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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