About agranulocytosis

What is agranulocytosis?

A blood disorder characterized by low levels of white blood cells (granular leukocytes) in the circulating blood. The condition is usually caused by certain drugs especially chemotherapy drugs.

What are the symptoms for agranulocytosis?

The first symptoms of acquired agranulocytosis are usually those associated with a bacterial infection such as general weakness, chills, fever, and/or extreme exhaustion. Symptoms that are associated with rapidly falling white blood cell levels (granulocytopenia) may include the development of infected ulcers in the mucous membranes that line the mouth, throat, and/or intestinal tract. Some people with these ulcers may experience Difficulty swallowing due to irritation and pain.

Granulocytopenia causes a concurrent decrease in the number of neutrophils in the circulating blood (neutropenia). As neutrophil levels decrease, the susceptibility of patients with acquired agranulocytosis to bacterial infections becomes even greater. Fevers and abnormal enlargement of the spleen (splenomegaly) are characteristic features of neutropenia. If neutropenia is not treated, bacterial infections can lead to life-threatening complications such as bacterial shock or bacterial contamination of the blood (sepsis.) (For more information on this disorder, choose “Neutropenia” as your search term in the Rare Disease Database.)

Chronic acquired agranulocytosis generally progresses more slowly than acquired agranulocytosis. Canker sores in the mouth and chronic inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) may be recurring symptoms. Other systemic infections may recur regularly.

What are the causes for agranulocytosis?

Acquired agranulocytosis can be caused by drugs, chemicals, infections, immune system dysfunction, or other factors. The mechanism of how the disease develops is not completely clear, and probably depends on the initiating event.

What are the treatments for agranulocytosis?


Filgrastim (Neupogen) has been designated an orphan drug and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of severe, chronic neutropenia; and it has become a standard treatment for acquired agranulocytosis. Filgrastim is one of a class of colony-stimulating factors that does, indeed, stimulate the proliferation and differentiation of neutrophils. It is manufactured by Amgen, Inc., using recombinant DNA technology.

The treatment of acquired agranulocytosis includes the identification and elimination of drugs or other agents that induce this disorder. Antibiotic medications may also be prescribed if there is a positive blood culture for the presence of bacteria or if a significant local infection develops.

Treatment in adults with antibiotics should be limited to about 7-10 days since longer duration carries with it a greater risk of kidney (renal) complications and may set the stage for a new infection. When granulocyte levels return to a near normal range, fever and infections will generally subside.

There is no definitive therapy that can stimulate bone marrow (myeloid) recovery. Corticosteroids are sometimes used to treat shock induced by overwhelming bacterial infection. However, these drugs are not recommended for the treatment of acute agranulocytopenia because they may mask other bacterial infections.

People with abnormally low levels of immune factors in their blood (hypogammaglobulinemia) associated with acquired agranulocytosis are usually treated with infusions of gamma globulin.

Mouth and throat ulcers associated with acquired agranulocytosis can be soothed with gargles of salt (saline) or hydrogen peroxide solutions. Anesthetic lozenges may also help to relieve irritation in the mouth and throat. Mouthwashes that contain the antifungal drug nystatin can be used to treat oral fungal infection (i.e., thrush or candida). A semi-solid or liquid diet may become necessary during episodes of acute oral and gastrointestinal inflammation. (For more information on this disorder, choose "Candidiasis" as your search term in the Rare Disease Database.)

People with chronic granulocytopenia associated with acquired agranulocytosis need to be hospitalized during acute episodes of infection. These affected individuals should be taught to recognize the early symptoms and signs of acute infection and to seek immediate medical attention when necessary. The therapy for chronically affected individuals is similar to that for the acute form of the disease. People with chronic granulocytopenia, who take low-dose oral antibiotics on a rotating basis, must also be monitored for the infections caused by drug-resistant bacteria as well as infections with opportunistic organisms (e.g., fungi, cytomegalovirus). 

What are the risk factors for agranulocytosis?

What are the risk factors of agranulocytosis?

Women are more likely to develop agranulocytosis than men are. It can occur at any age. However, inherited forms of the condition are more often found in children, who usually pass away from this condition well before reaching adulthood. Acquired agranulocytosis occurs most frequently in older adults.

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