White Blood Cells (WBCs) – Definition, Function, and Ranges

white blood cells

Each year comes a new wave of common viral infections. And not many of us really understand the depths of how our body fights infections and bad bacterias off to maintain you health

Although vitamins and a healthy lifestyle can encourage our body to combat infection. it is actually our white blood cells that do most of the work. 

According to research, a human body has between 4,500 and 11,000 white blood cells per cubic millimetre of blood. White blood cells are essential for helping the immune system fight off infections. They are bigger than red blood cells, are fewer in number but have an equally effective impact. 

Maintaining a healthy white blood cell count is essential for inhibiting infections. It can also encourage the body to fight off any foreign invaders. There are several medical, health, and lifestyle factors that determine how effective our white blood cells can be. 

Today, we will discuss: what white blood cells are? how do they work? how to maintain healthy white blood cell levels? and how to assess if your levels are healthy?

What are White Blood Cells (WBCS)?

The White Blood Cells (wbcs) or Leukocytes are the type of cells that have a nucleus and float freely in your bloodstream. Bone marrow, lymph glands, and nodes are the primary sources where WBCS gets produced. They pass directly to the bloodstream and live from several days to many years.

After this timeframe, they usually become deactivated in the spleen tissues. Their count is important for your general health and can show your doctor whether you have an infection or not.WBCS belong to the enormous cells of the human body. 

Their DNA can increase the creation of antibodies according to the specific types of intruders. They are durable cells, which may attract and penetrate viruses and germs. The leukocyte population quickly reaches the infection site (alongside with platelets) and restores the balance in tissues. 

Types of White Blood Cells

There are several types of wbcs, each one serving a unique goal. Let’s take a look at the leukocytes which take part in inflammatory disease conditions. They are essential parts of your immune system and can create a protection network for antigens coming from the environment.

Some of the white blood cells come from the bone marrow, while others come from the lymphatic tissues. They come in many shapes and sizes so that they can attack different threats, and offer you increased cell defense against blood infections or disorders. 

Neutrophils

They represent almost 67% of the wbcs present in the human body. The use of an electronic microscope allowed us to estimate their cell size coming up to 10-12μm approximately. 

They attack mainly the fungi and bacteria trying to enter and multiply in the bloodstream. The cell count of the neutrophils is always high compared to the other types giving your doctor many reasons to believe that you can deal with infections successfully.

Their life cycle varies from several hours to a few days top. They are all heading to spleen tissue, where their dissolution happens.

Eosinophil

This type of white blood cell has the same size as the neutrophils (10-12μm). Their name comes from the pink color they take under the microscope when the doctor uses a cell pigmentation method.

They belong to the wbc with low cell count (approximately 2.4%) and protect you against parasites or ease the symptoms of allergic inflammatory responses. They live only for a few days (no more than 8) and circulate in your bloodstream for less time to deal with infections and disease, getting things back to normal.

Basophil

Scientists have found these white blood cells to be rare in your body, counting for less than 0.4% of the total immune system cells. They are the only ones who have two or three lobes, and their cytoplasm granules can take blue color under the microscope. 

Their size is somewhere between 12 and 15μm, and their main task is to release histamine to urge the inflammatory response of your body. These cells are the hardest to spot when having a blood test since their count is minimal.

The life span of basophil wbc keeps on being short, varying from a few hours to several days before getting destroyed in your spleen tissue.

Lymphocytes

One of the most valuable wbcs types existing in your body. They count for almost 30% of the total white blood cell population in your bloodstream. However, they are more apparent in the lymphatic system than in your blood.

These cells have a small nucleus that is close to the membrane and have two or three lobes. They include several types listed here:

B-cells

They produce the antibodies and can also start the immune response, activating other types of lymphocytes.

T-cells

Cytokines are their primary product. They activate the immune system against any infection. Furthermore, the CD4+ and CD8+ cell variations attack the cancer cells and can help to give patients increased immune system reactions and treatment for leukemia.

T-cells also include some suppressor types that prevent autoimmunity (attacking your body cells) or the overreaction against external infections.

Natural Killer Cells

As their name implies, this type of white blood cells can kill any virus or cellular intruder comes into your bloodstream. They can attack even the ones that have no compatibility with your body proteins called MHC (Major Histocompatibility Complex).

Lymphocytes vary in size. The smaller cells can have an average size close to 7-8μm while the larger ones can measure up to the range of 12-15μm in diameter.

They live from several days up to many years, since they are the memory cells of your immune system, offering an acute reaction to an infectious agent penetrating your body once more.

Monocytes

The “waste management” cells of your immune system are monocytes. They are the roomiest types of white blood cells, measuring from 15 to 30μm each.

Monocytes are approximately 5.3% of your wbc count, and you may find them in your bone marrow or any other lymphatic tissue. These cells help neutrophils to fight against infections, keeping the medical treatment of diseases at normal levels.

How Do White Blood Cells Work?

White Blood Cells are the fighters of your immune system. They work through chemical routes and can activate themselves when an antigen comes into your bloodstream. Antigens are all chemical agents, viruses, germs, or bacteria that can enter your body through your skin.

Once the invasion gets detected by one of the white blood cells, a chemical message becomes available to initiate counterattacks to the invader cells or organisms.

Our body keeps a relevant number of wbcs to circulate in your bloodstream, retaining your health to normal levels. The production of neutrophils and lymphocytes gets high when an antigen enters your body.

All types of white blood cells are present in our bone marrow tissue and “wake-up” every time you need to have an inflammatory reaction against potential dangers.

The wbcs count is important to determine whether you had an infection or you have already overpassed it. It can show your doctor the possibility of having cancer, according to their type and number, which varies in several disorders.

Normal Range of White Blood Cells

According to the University of Iowa, Hospitals & Clinics, the white blood cells range and percentage to the total count seen as normal are as follows:

TypePercentageNumber
Neutrophil50 – 60%2 188 – 7 800
Lymphocytes 20 – 40%875 – 3 300
Monocytes2 – 9%130 – 860
Eosinophils1 – 4%40 – 390
Basophils0.5 – 2%10 – 136 

Have in mind that numbers refer to the cell count per ml of your blood specimen. These are the world recognized prices that get compared to the findings from your blood. All general blood control exams include the inspection of the wbc counts since leukocytes number will alert your doctor to propose further tests and examinations. 

Causes of White Blood Cells Disorders

While some of the disorders affecting the count of white blood cells are hereditary, it seems like the modern way of life can inflate them to healthy individuals. Their number or their type is the first to get affected, and you have to perform regular medical examinations and a blood test to identify them.

Any deviation from the normal count can create severe problems for your health. Not to mention, that your immune system can become vulnerable to external threats and even attack your cells to initiate an inflammatory response called an autoimmune disorder.

Let’s check what the most frequent disease is that has to do with the alterations from the normal count of your white blood cells.

High White Blood Cells Levels Causes

Even though it is not that frequent, your doctor will be equally concerned with a high wbc number, seen in your blood test. This high number of leukocytes, known as Leukocytosis, could be the response to a recent illness and germ infection. 

Leukocytosis could also be an alert to check your bone marrow function and search if you have cancer or malignancy in your bloodstream or any other organ. 

Even though a high white blood cell count could easily justify its present, it’s always a good practice to run any additional medical test to exclude any possible disease. The high wbcs count may also be a signal of autoimmune disorders.

The Lupus is the most common autoimmune disease, causing the overproduction of lymphocytes giving you a chronic clinical inflammatory condition in need of medications and special treatment.

Leukemia

It is one of the cancer forms often seen in children and adults. The platelets and red cells are getting replaced by white blood cells. Bone marrow overproduces the lymphocytes, which are not working properly and aggravate the body functions.

Leukemia can be either acute or chronic. It is an urgent medical condition that needs radiation therapy and chemotherapy to get better. Bone marrow transplant is another therapeutic option to restore its normal function and bring the wbc counts to the right levels.

Low White Blood Cells Levels Causes

Having a low white blood cell count patient is the usual medical condition that a doctor will face during his career. These conditions are the well-known Leukopenia (meaning lack of leukocytes).

Neutropenia

It is a dangerous condition for your health. The bone marrow tissue cannot produce enough Neutrophils and the leukocytes removal rate is higher than ever before.

Persons suffering from neutropenia are more vulnerable to infection and inflammatory disease. Your doctor will read and view your blood test, estimating the wbc counts to offer you the right medical treatment.

Lymphocytopenia

The reduction of normal Lymphocytes level is another severe medical condition. White Blood Cells who usually get affected are the T-cells coming from the Lymphocytes strain. 

The low leukocytes level associates with a decreased immune system response to external infections. 

White Blood Cells, Red Blood Cells, and Platelets

All these types of cells are the particles of your blood. White Blood Cells are usually bigger than red blood cells and platelets. However, their most important difference is that White Blood Cells are the only ones having a nucleus.

That is the way a doctor can distinguish the ones from the others using the electron microscope when examining your blood specimens. Red blood cells give the red color to your blood, while platelets are important to heal wounds by forming clots.

It is necessary to know that all these cells come from a common ancestor in the bone marrow (stem cells), getting differentiated as the fetus grows. The balance between the wbc counts and the platelets or red blood cell number is an essential health index for your doctor.

Symptoms of White Blood Cells Disorders

Several common symptoms relate to White Blood Cells disorders. Let’s check each one separately:

Neutropenia

Neutropenia usually runs silently through your body without causing any severe symptoms. However, your doctor could be suspicious of low wbcs counts when you appear to have:

  • Fever that is not getting better with medications or time
  • Rashes
  • Wounds that can’t heal after a long time
  • Ulcers (especially gastric ulcer)

Lymphocytopenia

A low lymphocyte count could give you symptoms like:

  • Runny nose
  • Painful joint syndrome
  • Abnormal weight loss
  • Swollen lymph nodes or glands
  • Skin rashes
  • Night sweating episodes
  • Fever and/or cough

Leukemia

Since leukemia affects millions of people worldwide, there are many known and described symptoms like:

  • Chills or fever
  • Fatigue and weakness 
  • Easy bleeding and bruising
  • The appearance of tiny red spots on your skin
  • Nosebleeds that don’t easily stop
  • Night sweating
  • Frequent infections with the same microbes
  • An unexpected loss of weight

Leukocytosis

The increase of leukocytes number can cause the following symptoms:

  • Vision issues
  • Breathing incompetence
  • Mucosa bleeding especially from the mouth or intestine area
  • Hives or itchy skin
  • Fever and bone pain

Treatment of White Blood Cells Disorders

Today doctors have a wide range of treatment for all White Blood Cells Disorders. It would be wiser to examine it according to each type of wbc disorder:

Leukocytosis

The treatment usually associates with the type of problems caused by the increased leukocyte number.

  • Antihistamines and anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Psychological help to reduce stress and anxiety
  • Antibiotics to fight against infections
  • Chemotherapy, radiation, or stem cell transplant

Leukemia

Leukemia is a severe type of cancer that needs specific treatment:

  • Chemotherapy using a combination of anti-cancer proliferation drugs
  • Biological therapy. Doctors inject biological agents to ease the white blood cells domination in the bloodstream
  • Targeted therapy. Drugs targeting specific molecular paths in the wbcs creation can stop their overproduction
  • Radiation therapy. X-rays of gamma-rays can destroy in site the leukemia cells and prepare patients for stem cell transplant
  • Bone Marrow transplant. Leukemia patients receive bone marrow from compatible donors to replace their damaged tissues

Neutropenia

Common treatments to Neutropenia include:

  • Antibiotics. When the wbc count is low and dangerous for your health, doctors can prescribe antibiotics for extra protection against infections
  • Glycoproteins that stimulate the bone marrow to produce neutrophils. They are called G-CSF and GM-CSF being the granulate growth factors to induce more Neutrophils and Macrophage cell creation
  • Change of lifestyle. Persons with neutropenia should avoid crowded places, take extra precautions when being out and use facial masks and gloves to avoid infections

Lymphocytopenia

  • Antiretroviral drug therapy similar to the HIV one
  • Gamma globulin infusions to prevent the B-cell insufficiency related infections
  • Antiparasitic or fungal antibiotics drugs to cure any related infection
  • Bone marrow transplant to make your body naturally increase the wbcs count

How to calculate your White Blood Cells Levels: The Ultimate Guide

There are certain drawbacks in the methods you can calculate your white blood cell levels. The nucleated red blood cells usually take part in the count, changing the real measurement of the wbc exact number.

To obtain the real wbcs count you need to follow the underscored steps:

  • Count the number of wbcs using an automated cell counter (for example 15,000)
  • Note the exact number of nucleated red blood cells (NRBCs) per 100 wbcs
  • If the number of NRBCs is bigger than five you need to proceed in calculating the real number of your wbcs (for example let’s suppose it is 6)
  • Multiply the uncorrected white blood cells number by 100 (for example 15,000 X 100 = 1,500,000)
  • Add 100 to the total number of your NRBCs (in our example 100+6=106)
  • Divide the second total number from the first one ( 1,500,000:106 = 14,151)
  • The corrected number of your white blood cells count can come up to 14,151 which is closer to reality)

It is an easy way to have exact measurements of your wbcs count when you have the right equipment. Have in mind that getting the right number is important for your doctor to decide the kind of treatment you are going to take.

Drugs that affect your White Blood Cells Levels

Many drugs can affect your White Blood Cells levels. The most important of them include the following.

Increase wbc counts

  • Adrenaline
  • Allopurinol
  • Aspirin
  • Heparin
  • Quinine
  • Corticosteroids
  • Triamterene
  • Chloroform

Decrease wbc counts

  • Antibiotics
  • Antithyroid drugs
  • Chemotherapeutic agents
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Arsenical
  • Barbiturates
  • Antihistamine drugs
  • Diuretics
  • Sulfonamides

FAQ

What happens if White Blood Cells are High?

Most people don’t feel anything when they have a high white blood cells count. However, it can make you look pale and feel tired all the time. Not to mention, that rashes and skin itches are going to occur more often than previously.

What diseases cause high White Blood Cells count?

Diseases that cause high White Blood Cells count include:

How White Blood Cells die?

White Blood Cells have a life cycle that varies from several hours to a few years. They usually come to the apoptosis stage (death) when they have reached their goal to defend your body from external intruders.

The white blood cells direct to your spleen tissue where most of them are getting deactivated and decomposed after several days. 

What food increases White Blood Cells?

Certain foods can increase the White Blood Cells count in your body. These include:

  • Citrus fruits including oranges and grapefruits
  • Spinach
  • Garlic
  • Yogurt
  • Almonds
  • Turmeric
  • Papaya
  • Green Tea
  • Kiwi
  • Poultry
  • Shellfish
  • Ginger
  • Red Peppers

=> Also have a look on our foods list to boost your immune system

Does Vitamin C increase White Blood Cells?

Vitamin C can give a natural boost to the White Blood Cells creation. Your body cannot store Vitamin C and that is why it would be wise to consume oranges and citrus daily. Have in mind that you should never exceed the 2,000 mg per day dosage to avoid problems from your stomach and intestine.

Vitamin C acts as an accelerating enzyme to all the molecular reactions that proliferate the multiplication of T-cells and Lymphocytes in your blood.

Does Coffee affect the White Blood Cells count?

The caffeine that is the main substance in coffee beverages can increase your energy levels and improve your ability to exercise more. A recent study has shown that people who consumed coffee and had exercise experienced an increase of 73% to their wbcs counts.

However, the direct relation of coffee consumption with the production of the white blood cells is not yet evaluated in double-blind trials with controlled with placebo groups.

Does low White Blood Cells count mean cancer?

Low White Blood Cells count doesn’t necessarily mean you have any kind of underlying cancer. It is more probable that you suffer from chronic infections or spleen inefficiency that can cause low wbcs levels to occur.

Your doctor is the only competent person to differ-diagnose your low wbcs levels and find the origin of this deficiency.

The only type of cancer that associates with low white blood cells are myeloid leukemia that is extremely rare. It affects your bone marrow and may get better with a transplant from a healthy donor.

Do low White Blood Cells make you feel tired?

A low White Blood Cells level can make you feel tired. It happens because the wbc high count can remove red blood cells from your bloodstream. Removing the red blood cells means that less oxygen gets to your muscles and that is the main reason for feeling constantly tired and exhausted.

Many people who suffer from wbcs deficiencies can benefit from blood transplants rich in platelets and red blood cells that can increase the oxygenation of their tissues.

Does stress cause low White Blood Cells count?

Stress can lower your White Blood Cells count since it is the chronic mental condition that can increase cortisol production in your body. It is proven that cortisol can lower the production of white blood cells in your bone marrow, lymphatic tissues, and spleen. 

In this way, people who suffer from chronic stress and don’t receive any treatment for it can place themselves at severe risk. The low White Blood Cells count can make them vulnerable to infections. 

It is vital to deal with anxiety and stress to restore your wbcs levels and immune system health to normal.

What organ produces White Blood Cells?

You can find the production of White Blood Cells in several different organs in the human body:

  • Bone Marrow: It is where the stem cells of all blood particles are. T-cells and Neutrophils are produced there
  • Lymph nodes and glands: They are scattered around your body and produce the lymphocytes to attack external intruders
  • Spleen: It is the main organ dedicated to the creation of multiple White Blood Cells. People who get a splenectomy (removal of the spleen due to injury or cancer) suffer from chronic low levels of White Blood Cells

Can you live without White Blood Cells?

The human body can physically live without white blood cells. However, without them the body will become very sick as it will be open to infection and be seen as an easy target by bad bacteria and pathogens. The majority of the blood is made up of red blood cells and platelets, meaning the human body can continue to live but may develop life threatening infections due to lack of WBCS.

Do low white blood cells make you tired?

Leukopenia, also known as low white blood cell count, causes fatigue. Your body will become easily tired when you are experiencing leukopenia as your body’s defense and immune system becomes weak.

Are white blood cells white?

The reason for white blood cells being called white, is due to their physical appearance. After separating them from the red blood cells, the cells are indeed white in colour. The same goes for red blood cells, they are red in appearance.

Conclusion

The immune system has its safeguards that are the White Blood Cells. They are necessary to give you the health levels you need to function well in a world full of threats for your body.

Following a healthy lifestyle that includes organic foods, supplements and lots of workouts can give you the immune system function you always wanted.

Checking your White Blood Cells count regularly could be useful for your doctor to evaluate your general health levels.

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