The Cardiovascular System - White Blood Cells

Publication Date: 
Thu, 11/01/2015
By: Alere Staff

  White blood cells, also referred to as leukocytes, are the main line of defense against infection in the body. They are produced in our bone marrow and stored in our blood and lymphatic tissue. There are five major types of white blood cells:
  • Basophils: Alert the body when a potential infection is present and help control the body’s immune response.
  • Eusinophils: Help with allergic response and destroy parasites and cancer cells.
  • Neutrophils: Kill and digest bacteria and fungi.Monocytes: Help break down bacteria.
  • Lymphocytes: Create antibodies to defend against potentially harmful invaders.

White blood cells are only one percent of our overall blood, but they are constantly at work. Viruses, bacteria and any other impurity can enter our body through the skin, inhalation and by eating and drinking. When any of these get into the body, our white blood cells go to work. Each white blood cell does its part to get rid of the potential danger.

White Blood Cell Count

When your white blood cell count is too high (over 11,000), it could mean something as simple as a common cold, virus or an allergic reaction, or it could mean something more serious, such as leukemia. Smoking can also contribute to a high white blood cell count. This is usually a precursor to diseases associated with smoking, such as vascular disease.

Conversely, when your white blood cell count is too low (less than 4,000), it affects your body’s ability to fight infection. This is usually caused by a disruption in the bone marrow’s ability to produce or reproduce white blood cells. Some viruses, such as HIV/AIDS can decrease the white blood cell production, particularly the lymphocytes. Cancer also can damage or destroy white blood cells. This can be further complicated if one opts for chemo or radiation as these procedures are meant to destroy all cells, both cancerous and healthy.

Some people that have received organ transplants may be put on what are known as immunosuppressants. They take these to decrease the chances of their body rejecting the new organ. Should you receive a transplant, your body could identify the new organ as a foreign body and will attempt to destroy it. These drugs work by decreasing the production of white blood cells. When you take one of these tests to determine your white blood cell count, it is important to discuss your test results with your doctor.

In the end, there is nothing you can do to increase your white blood cell count, other than taking care of yourself. Keeping your white blood cell count healthy is as simple as eating well, sleeping well and getting regular exercise. Also, don’t forget to keep your doctor’s appointments and take your medication as directed.

Interested in learning more? Check out these other articles on your Cardiovascular System:

References:

  1. Dugdale III, D.C., MD et al. WBC Count. MedlinePlus: U.S. National Library of Medicine. February 2, 2013. Retrieved from website:https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003643.htm
  2. Bowers, N., RN, BSN, MPH. What Are White Blood Cells? University of Rochester Medical Center: Health Encyclopedia. 2015. Retrieved from website: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=160&ContentID=35
  3. Mayo Clinic Staff. Symptoms: Low White Blood Cell Count. Mayo Clinic. January 3, 2013. Retrieved from website:http://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/low-white-blood-cell-count/basics/definition/SYM-20050615
  4. Mayo Clinic Staff. Symptoms: High White Blood Cell Count. Mayo Clinic. December 14, 2012. Retrieved from website:http://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/high-white-blood-cell-count/basics/definition/sym-20050611
  5. Bridges, A.B., MB, ChB, MRCP, et al. Cigarette Smoking Increases White Blood Cell Aggregation in Whole Blood. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. Vol. 86, Mar. 1993.139-140. Retrieved from website: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1293901/pdf/jrsocmed00100-0019.pdf