Look to physi­cian, not nu­tri­tion, for cause of low blood cell count

Ripon Bulletin - - State / Nation -

DEAR DR. ROACH: I am 90 years old and in good health. I re­cently saw my doc­tor and had ab­nor­mal blood test results. My white cell count was 2.1, my he­mo­glo­bin 9.5 and my hema­t­ocrit was 29 per­cent. Is there any kind of vi­ta­min or food I can take to raise these lev­els? -- M.A.

AN­SWER: Both your white blood cells and red blood cells are ab­nor­mally low. Be­fore pre­scrib­ing a course of treat­ment, such as a vi­ta­min or special diet, it’s crit­i­cal to find out why these counts are low. I don’t have enough in­for­ma­tion to nar­row down a long list of pos­si­bil­i­ties, but I can out­line the ap­proach doc­tors gen­er­ally take when con­sid­er­ing this con­di­tion.

I would first want to know the results of your platelet count. I ex­pect that it will be low, in which case the con­di­tion goes by the gen­eral name of “pan­cy­tope­nia,” which just means “all the blood cells are low.” While it is true that some nu­tri­tional de­fi­cien­cies can cause this (vi­ta­mins B-12 and folic acid, and the min­eral copper are the most com­mon), there are many other causes that are more com­mon. Since all of these cells are pro­duced in the bone mar­row, a mar­row biopsy some­times is nec­es­sary. How­ever, long be­fore that point, a hema­tol­o­gist (blood spe­cial­ist) will do a com­plete history and exam, and will look per­son­ally at your blood sam­ple for signs of in­fec­tion, im­mune sys­tem dis­eases, med­i­ca­tion side ef­fects and pri­mary bone mar­row dis­eases that can cause this prob­lem.

Some of the causes are se­ri­ous and ben­e­fit from early in­ter­ven­tion, so I would rec­om­mend see­ing a spe­cial­ist about this soon. Age makes some con­di­tions much more likely. In a 20-year-old with this, I would think about Ep­steinBarr virus (the cause of in­fec­tious mononu­cle­o­sis), but at age 90, I’d be con­cerned about the myelodys­plas­tic syn­dromes. Please let me know what you find out.

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