What’s Going Around – White Blood Cells
White blood cells (WBC) are the cells responsible for our immune and inflammatory response.
Everyones count fluctuates some over time, but they can change significantly with certain disease processes. The most common elevation is seen with acute inflammatory responses and infections. The first and most important thing to understand is that the WBC count means nothing without context. Many assume that an elevated WBC count means infection and the higher it is means the infection is worse. It may support the diagnoses of infection, but does not mean that’s the case.
Some of the highest WBC counts I have seen have been after trauma with the injury response which will quickly and significantly elevated the WBCs. Also, infections can cause the count to be high, unchanged, or low. Again, it is about the context and the other symptoms that allow us to better characterize the significance of the lab value. In fact, most doctors feel the WBC count is of little use in most cases. What is more important is the patient sitting in front of us, their symptoms, risk factors, and potential complications.
So, just like temperature, the number is not as importance as the setting in which it exists and health care professionals should be able to help guide you and educate you on what they mean and whether it is of significant concern.