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A White Cell Count (WCC) can be performed on a few millilitres of blood, collected from a vein, or occasionally from a heel-prick sample in newborn babies.
Although many doctors consider the White Cell Count as a good discriminator between serious illness and more benign conditions, it is a test that needs to be taken in context of the patient’s particular circumstances, and it may be falsely reassuring, or cause unecessary concern.
A White Cell Count (WCC) may be requested by a doctor for many possible reasons, usually to exclude a severe infection. This may be in the setting of a relatively broad range of symptoms such as cough, headache, a painful joint, abdominal pain or fever.
A VERY LOW White Cell Count would raise concern that the immune system is overwhelmed by infection and may not have enough white blood cells to fight the infection effectively. This is particularly true in the setting of recent chemotherapy.
A LOW White Cell Count (WCC) may occur early on in any infective illness, or may be normal.
A HIGH White Cell Count is often due to an infection, which may or may not be severe. Other causes include a seizure, steroid medications such as prednisolone, or as a non-specific “stress response” to pain or illness.
A VERY HIGH White Cell Count may be due to severe infection, or less commonly due an acute or chronic form of leukaemia.
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