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What Is the Connection between a Fever and Neutropenia?

By Erik J.J. Goserud
Updated May 17, 2024
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A fever is a common term used to describe a febrile state or a state of elevated body temperature. Neutropenia is a medical term that refers to a blood condition in which a specific type of white blood cell, the neutrophil, is unusually sparse. The connection between having a fever and neutropenia is direct, meaning they oftentimes are simultaneously present.

Characterized specifically by a temperature exceeding 38 degrees Celsius or 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, a fever is commonly caused by factors such as infection, physical stress and exhaustion, or dehydration, among others. One way in which the body counteracts a fever in order to restore homeostasis is by utilizing white blood cells. White blood cells are particularly important in the case of infection, and neutrophils, the type of cells compromised during neutropenia, are the body's first line of internal defense. When these cells are low, infections are more difficult to overcome, often elongating the febrile state. This is an example of the connection between a fever and neutropenia.

A neutropenic fever differs from a typical state of elevated temperature in a number of ways. These difference manifest themselves in that a number of typical fever symptoms are not present when a fever is of neutropenic origins. Symptoms such as swelling, redness, or pus formation specifically will not be present.

Fever and neutropenia are a potentially dangerous combination and should be immediately treated. Such treatment is geared toward restoring the white blood cell count, reducing the febrile state, and attacking the underlying infection. This may be achieved by taking a widespread course of antibiotics, medications that stimulate white blood cell production, and over-the-counter drugs, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, to reduce the body's temperature and relieve associated aches and pains.

It is important to understand that a fever and neutropenia are not always related, and just as there are numerous causes of a fever, many such causes also exist for neutropenia. These triggers include certain medications, decreased bone marrow production — which may be a product of secondary factors — an autoimmune disorder, or other medical treatments. One common treatment that causes a reduction in the white blood cell count is chemotherapy. Many patients receiving chemotherapy are at risk for developing neutropenic fevers.

Any serious medical condition should be monitored closely. Fevers, especially when present in infants or young children, are potentially fatal and should be taken very seriously. Neutropenia is also a very serious disorder that may cause many ailments, and a health care professional should also be consulted regarding this state of diminished white blood cells.

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