Your immune system relies on white blood cells (WBCs) to fight infections and initiate healing in case of tissue damage. Made and stored in bone marrow, white blood cells play a big role in limiting injury from any harmful substance. Only a small percentage of WBCs circulate in the blood, but your body can release stored WBCs rapidly if needed. Elevated white blood cell number is generally related to an immune system response, and there could be many underlying factors causing this condition.
Causes of an Elevated White Blood Cell Count
The exact threshold for elevated WBCs usually varies from one lab to another. If you are an adult, you have a high white blood cell count if your results show more than 11, 000 WBCs (leukocytes) in a micro-liter of blood. When you have a high white blood cell count, the condition is also called leukocytosis. You may develop this condition due to the following reasons:
1. You Have an Infection
Both viral and bacterial infections can lead to a quick rise in the levels of WBCs. The same may happen when you develop a parasitic or fungal infection. It is normal for your immune system to trigger the release of WBCs in your bloodstream to deal with an infection. Through your bloodstream, these cells travel to the site of infection and start the healing process.
2. You Have Allergy or Inflammation
You can have a high white blood cell count if you have a condition that causes inflammation in the body. This could happen when you have ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, or Crohn's disease. Inflammation may also be the result of tissue damage and injury.
Similarly, asthma and severe allergies can also cause inflammation. When there is inflammation in your body, it triggers the release of stored WBCs, increasing their count in the bloodstream.
3. You Have a Drug Reaction
You may have an elevated white blood cell count after taking certain medications. Even some drugs used to treat inflammation in the body can change your white blood cell count. Medications for cancer and mental health conditions may also do the same.
4. You Are Under Stress
Studies show that severe emotional and physical stress can lead to a rise in the number of WBCs in the body. Stress caused by anxiety and overexertion may result in the same. Stress and exercise increase the level of stress hormone cortisol that recruits white blood cells into the bloodstream.
5. You Have Bone Marrow Diseases
A bone marrow disorder is usually not the common reason behind a high white blood cell count, but it can be a possibility. The most common issue is leukemia which is actually a type of cancer. In leukemia, the bone marrow begins producing and releasing very large numbers of defective white blood cells into the bloodstream.
Other bone marrow disorders, such as polycythemia vera in which your body produces too many red blood cells can also make your white blood cell count to go up. Myelofirbosis is another bone marrow disorder responsible for an abnormal production of WBCs.
What to Do If You Have Elevated Blood Cell Count
1. Treat Underlying Causes
Once you know you have elevated white blood cell count, you need to work with your doctor and help bring the count back to normal. It is important to identify exactly what is behind the increase in your white blood cell count.
For example, if it is an infection, your doctor may give you antibiotics to clear it. Your count will become normal once the infection clears.
You may have to see a haematologist in case your white blood cell count is on the higher side but you have not recently recovered from an infection. He or she will identify the underlying cause and then determine the proper treatment regime.
2. Home Remedies
You can also take some other steps to help deal with this condition. For instance:
- Eat food rich in vitamin C. This vitamin really helps regulate the levels of WBCs in your blood. Eat fruits like oranges, lemons, and lime. Also, include guavas, berries, papayas, pineapples, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and bell peppers in your diet.
- Get more antioxidants. Eating foods rich in antioxidants helps reduce inflammation in the body, which in turn helps regulate elevated white blood cell count. Some of the best sources of antioxidants are garlic, onions, leeks, grapes, and green tea. Many fruits and vegetables also provide you with antioxidants and help keep your immune system healthy.
- Get more omega 3 fatty acids. You have to make better food choices to provide your body with these essential fatty acids. These fatty acids are good for your cardiovascular health and can elevate the activity of a specific type of white blood cells called phagocytes that help fight off foreign bacteria, and finally decrease the WBCs in your blood. You can get omega-3s from fatty fish like trout, herring, and salmon. Walnuts and flaxseed are also good sources of omega3s.
White Blood Cell Count Test
1. Purpose of a WBC Count
Your doctor may order a complete blood count to get an idea about your overall health. They may also order the same if you complain of persistent fever, body aches, headaches, or chills. The test helps identify any infection in your body and tells your doctor if they should order other tests to diagnose medical conditions, such as immune deficiencies, autoimmune diseases, and blood disorders.
2. How to Prepare for a WBC Count
You do not need any specific preparation. Just make an appointment with your doctor and give your blood sample. Keep in mind that certain medications can interfere with your results by changing your WBC count. Some of the most common drugs are heparin, corticosteroids, antibiotics, clozapine, diuretics, antihistamines, sulfonamides, anticonvulsants, and chemotherapy medication. Be sure to tell your doctor that you are taking these medications before having your blood drawn.