Heart and Blood Conditions


What Is Neutropenia?

Neutropenia occurs when the level of certain white blood cells in the blood drops below normal.

The main role of white blood cells is to defend your child's body against harmful agents, like viruses or bacteria that can cause infection. There are many types of white blood cells.

One type is called a neutrophil. This type surrounds and destroys harmful bacteria. Neutropenia occurs when the level of neutrophils is low.

This can happen if:

  • The body does not make enough neutrophils.
  • Neutrophils are destroyed after they are made.
  • Neutrophils collect in a certain spot in the body instead of moving through the bloodstream.

Neutropenia in Children

Any child can get neutropenia. Some people are born with neutropenia or get it for no known reason.

The most common causes in children are a temporary decrease in the number of white blood cells being made or an increase in the number being destroyed after a viral infection.

When your child's body fights a viral infection, it can take a lot of white blood cells, so the count can fall quite low and may stay low for many months. Most of the time, this type of neutropenia does not raise the risk of serious infections much. It usually gets better on its own over time.

There are many other possible causes for neutropenia. Here are some of them:

  • Some people have neutropenia because their own immune system attacks their blood cells.
  • Blood cell levels, including neutrophil levels, drop in many children (and adults) who get chemotherapy medicines for cancer. This tends to be more severe with more intense treatment.
  • Certain other kinds of medicines can reduce the number of neutrophils being made.
  • Children who are short on some vitamins, such as B12, may not make enough blood cells.
  • Some blood diseases or problems with the bone marrow, like aplastic anemia, can cause low blood cell levels.
  • Some infections can reduce blood cell levels. One such illness is tuberculosis (TB).

Neutropenia at Seattle Children's

At Children's Hospital, we offer a full range of services to diagnose and treat this disease.

Often, we evaluate a child to try to find the cause of the neutropenia. Then, we mainly give guidelines and reassurance about what to do if the child gets a fever, which is a sign of infection.

Read more about our experience and treatment of blood diseases through our Hematology Program.