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Symptoms of Neutropenia

When neutrophils drop too low, the risk of infection goes up.

Children with neutropenia are more likely to get infections. These often occur in the mouth, throat, sinuses, lungs or skin. Sometimes they can be severe and even require a stay in the hospital so doctors can give antibiotics through a tube in the child's vein (intravenous (IV)).

Aside from infections, there are often no symptoms of neutropenia. So unless your child starts getting more infections, neither you nor your child will notice any effects of this condition.

When your child does get an infection because of low neutrophils, there may be symptoms from that infection. Fever is one common sign of infection. Other symptoms depend on where the infection is. For example, an infection in the mouth may cause sores there. The lung infection pneumonia may cause chills, coughing, shortness of breath and muscle aches.

Some people with neutropenia have swollen gums, which may bleed.

Neutropenia Diagnosis

If your child gets frequent or uncommon infections, the doctor may suspect a problem with white blood cells, like neutrophils.

Doctors can tell your child has neutropenia by drawing blood and checking the levels of each type of blood cell. This is called a complete blood count, or CBC.

To understand why your child has low neutrophils, the doctor may also do a bone marrow aspiration and biopsy. Bone marrows here at Seattle Children's Hospital are done with medicines make your child sleep and feel no pain. The procedure involves using a syringe to remove a sample of liquid bone marrow (aspiration) from the hip bone and then checking these samples with the latest diagnostic tests to see if there is anything abnormal.

This test allows doctors to see whether the bone marrow is making the right amount of neutrophils and whether the cells are normal. They may also be able tell whether a disease that affects bone marrow is to blame for the low neutrophils.

Your child's doctor may check your child's blood cells levels from time to time if your child gets treatment for another illness and doctors know the treatment may cause neutropenia. For example, chemotherapy, given to treat cancer, can cause neutropenia. This is one reason why doctors regularly check the blood cell levels of children getting chemotherapy. This way they can detect neutropenia early, and may be able to treat it before infections increase.

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Summer 2014: Good Growing Newsletter

In This Issue

  • Understanding the Power and Influence of Role Models
  • Legal Marijuana Means Greater Poisoning Risks for Children
  • Why Choose Pediatric Emergency Care?

Download Summer 2014 (PDF)