5 Possible Causes of High White Blood Cell Count

Photo by: Bigstockphoto
Photo by: Bigstockphoto

White blood disorder refers to several conditions wherein the bone marrow releases too little or too many white blood cells. White blood cells are one of the body’s lines of defense against infections. They are stored in the bone marrow and released into the blood whenever a pathogen enters the body.

When the bone marrow is unable to release enough white blood cells, the body becomes vulnerable to infections. But too much white blood cells is bad too. A high white blood cell count could be a sign of leukemia, a form of blood cancer or other medical conditions. In today’s post, we are listing down potential causes of an elevated white blood cell count:

1. Severe Stress

Severe emotional and mental stress can cause white blood cells to elevate to abnormal levels. Studies show that overexertion, anxiety, and stress increase the cortisol level in the blood. Cortisol is a hormone that triggers the body’s “fight or flight” response. When the abnormal level of cortisol courses through the body, the bone marrow kicks into overdrive, causing elevated white blood cells.

2. Drug Reactions

Certain types of drugs can also cause a significant spike in white blood cells, but the effect is only temporary. These medications include anti-inflammatory drugs, cancer drugs and medications for various mental problems. In a study published in the British Journal of Haematology, researchers found that drug lithium generate a chemical message to the brain, causing the immune system to produce more white blood cells.

3. Infections

An elevated white blood cell count could be caused by a viral, bacterial or a parasitic infection. When the body is fighting off infections, the bone marrow works overtime to release more white blood cells. This is a normal immune-response to protect the body from pathogens. If a person is afflicted with a viral infection, high white blood cell count occurs during the initial stages of infection. During this point, the immune system is working at its peak to attack and contain the virus.

4. Inflammation

Inflammation is characterized as a normal immune response against “harmless” irritants. This condition is often caused by an overactive immune system. Inflammation often leads to heart disease, joint problems, allergies, and respiratory disorders like asthma. All types of inflammatory disorders could cause the white blood cell level to spike. Once the inflammation goes down, the white blood cells return to the normal level.

5. Bone Marrow Diseases

Bone marrow disease refers to a serious disorder of the bone marrow. The most common bone marrow disease that causes an elevated white blood cell count is leukemia.  This is a fatal condition wherein the bone marrow produces too much white blood cells and are released into the blood.

Polycythemia vera is another bone marrow condition characterized by the overproduction of red blood cells. This condition is caused by a gene mutation. The same mutation can trigger the bone marrow to release too many white blood cells.

Finally, myelofibrosis can also cause an elevated white blood cell count. This condition is caused by the abnormal production of blood cells, increasing the white blood cell count during the initial period of an inflammation.

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