Impacts of Leukopenia (Low White Blood Cell Count) In People With Anorexia

Blood disorders are a common occurrence in people with disrupted eating habits or nutrient deficiencies. As a result, people with eating disorders are at high risk of a wide range of blood problems, this is especially true for people with anorexia nervosa or other restrictive eating disorders. In this article, we’ll investigate the reasons behind the high rate of leukopenia in people with anorexia nervosa.

What is Leukopenia

When a person has leukopenia, it means they are suffering from a shortage of white blood cells, also known as leukocytes. When an adult’s white blood cell count is under 3,500 per microliter of blood, it is generally categorized as an auto-immune disorder.

There are several different types of white blood cells, including basophils, neutrophils, lymphocytes, eosinophils, and monocytes. Leukopenia can either be caused by a general shortage in leukocytes or a specific shortage of leukocytes. In the latter case, it means that a person has an acute shortage of a single type of white blood cell. For instance, people who have a low count of neutrophils – the white blood cell type responsible for protecting you against bacterial infections – may suffer from a common subtype of leukopenia known as neutropenia.

Can Anorexia Nervosa Cause Leukopenia?

As a restrictive eating disorder, anorexia nervosa often leads to extreme weight loss and malnutrition. Over a long period of time, sustained nutrient and energy deprivation can seriously impact your body’s essential organ functions. In severe cases, weight loss and malnourishment can even compromise the health of your bone marrow.

If you’ve spent any time talking to a doctor, you’ve probably already realized that bone marrow problems are very serious. In addition to generating stem cells for bone and cartilage growth, cellular bone marrow is responsible for producing your red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Unfortunately, restrictive eating disorders, like anorexia nervosa, put a person at high risk of damaging their bone marrow functions and causing a sudden drop in their white blood cell count.

What Are The Impacts of Leukopenia?

Fortunately, people with anorexia nervosa rarely register life-threatening drops in their white blood cell counts. In fact, a slightly lower white blood cell count is usually not dangerous in-and-of-itself. The real danger of a drop in white blood cells in an individual with an eating disorder is that it’s usually an indicator of an extremely serious nutrient deficiency and/or borderline starvation. In most cases, upon reintroducing calories and fluids, people recovering from anorexia will generally notice their white blood cell count returning to normal levels.

Sources: Gaudiani Clinic, Healthline

Photo: Pixabay

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