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Frequent infections, atypical lymphocytes & other symptoms

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008
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I have been struggling with some medical symptoms for quite a while now, and to this point my general practitioner cannot pinpoint what is going on. I recently had a relative ask about whether it’s something like leukemia, apparently because of my symptoms, but I don’t know and I also do not know how it would be diagnosed.

This is what I am experiencing. For years, I have always bruised very easily. My family would joke that I would bruise just from looking at me. I have had periodically had blood tests come back indicating that I am anemic. For the past year and a half I have struggled with being very tired, pain in my left side that comes and goes, and frequent infections. Now for about a month I have had a very severe headache that is persistent and doesn’t seem to be worse or better by different things (positioning, sensitivity to light, etc.) I had bloodwork done again that indicated my WBC was 14800 (it says normal is 4000-11000) and that there was “moderate atypical lymphs” as well. Last week, more blood testing was done and while my WBC count was lower this time they also did a sed rate test and that also came back as being elevated.

I’m not sure what any of this means, but it has me concerned because my doctor is unsure what to do next. I am seeing a neurologist tomorrow to see if it could be related to a neurological condition, but she is not expecting to get anything abnormal back because thus far I have passed all the preliminary neurological tests given. Does anyone have any advice? Is there something that is maybe being missed? Should I be concerned with leukemia?

Answered by: Maria/ MD Health Forum.com Team

Leukemia is a type of cancer of that begins in the blood cells. Although the cellular changes associated with leukemia have been studied, the exact cause why such changes occur is still unknown. The bone marrow is the principal site for blood formation or hematopoesis. The bone marrow produces blood cells, each type of blood cell has its specific function. The red blood cells are responsible for oxygen transport, the platelets form blood clots to prevent bleeding and the white blood cells fight infection and participate in hypersensitivity responses manifested in allergic reactions. In leukemia, the bone marrow produces abnormal white blood cells which may overcrowd the blood-forming bone marrow. Consequently, it becomes difficult for normal blood cells to perform their functions

Leukemia cells travel through the body just like our normal blood cells. The symptoms may depend on the number of abnormal cells and the location where these cells accumulate. Common symptoms of leukemia include frequent infections, fever, bleeding and bruising easily, headache, weight loss,malaise, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue and abdominal discomfort due to enlarged spleen and liver. However, such symptoms may also be present in other diseases. Once the doctor suspects that a patient’s blood is abnormal, blood and bone marrow tests may be requested to rule out leukemia. It is normal to be very concerned about laboratory results if they are not within the normal range. While in the doctor’s clinic, try to verbalize your concerns so they can be discussed. Further testings will depend on your doctor’s discretion.

Elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate is observed in patients with autoimmune diseases, an example of which is rheumatoid arthritis. The presence of atypical lymphocytes is detected in patients with mononucleosis- is an infection usually caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). Symptoms such as fever, headache, fatigue, weight loss, malaise, elevated white blood cell count, abdominal pain, enlarged lymph nodes and splenomegaly (enlarged spleen) are also experienced. To confirm if the patient has mononucleosis, blood tests such as the monospot or heterophile antibody tests may be ordered by the doctor.

This blog entry is only for the purpose of providing information, only your physician can diagnose you based on the symptoms presented, physical examination and diagnostic procedures.


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