Neutropenia is a medical condition in which the patient has abnormally low levels of neutrophils, which are a type of white blood cell. The basis of a neutropenia diagnosis is determining a person's neutrophil count, which is done with a blood test. Doctors will also need to determine the underlying cause of the condition for a complete neutropenia diagnosis, which may require a bone marrow aspiration.
An adult should have a count of at least 1,700 or more neutrophils per microliter of blood. The typical count for a child will vary, depending on his age. Adults with fewer than 500 neutrophils per microliter of blood have a severe case of neutropenia — these patients will likely suffer from various bacterial infections, including an infection of the digestive tract, from the bacteria that normally exists throughout the body.
One factor in a neutropenia diagnosis will be to examine the patient for signs of a bacterial infection. Depending on where the infection is, the patient may have sores in his mouth, along with swollen gums that may bleed. Fever is another common sign of infection, and those with a lung infection may also have shortness of breath, coughing, and muscle aches.
To make an accurate neutropenia diagnosis, the doctor will draw a sample of blood and send it to the laboratory where a lab technician will run a complete blood count (CBC) on the sample to check the levels of neutrophils. Once the patient has been diagnosed, the doctor will need to determine the cause of the condition. He may find that certain drugs are causing the low neutrophil count, and whenever possible, he will advise the patient to stop taking those medications or switch to different drugs.
In some cases, the doctor may determine that vitamin deficiencies, rheumatoid arthritis, or mononucleosis are to blame. Other possible causes of neutropenia include autoimmune disorders, malaria, and tuberculosis, as well as various parasitic diseases. Typically, treating the underlying cause will resolve the low neutrophil count. Some people may not require any treatment, if the symptoms they experience are mild.
If the cause of the condition cannot be determined through other means, the doctor may order a bone marrow aspiration for a complete neutropenia diagnosis. He will first sterilize the skin over the pelvic or breast bone and apply a local anesthetic to numb the area. A needle will be inserted into the bone and a sample of the bone marrow will be drawn up into a tube. The laboratory technician will then examine the sample for a neutropenia diagnosis.