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Learning About High White Blood Cell Counts

What are white blood cells?

White blood cells (leukocytes) help protect your body from infection. Normally, when germs get inside your body, your body makes more white blood cells that search for and destroy the germs. Less often, there are medical problems where the body may make a lot more white blood cells than it needs.

What happens when you have a high white blood cell count?

Your white blood cell count may be high because your body is fighting an infection. But other things can cause it, such as some medicines, burns, an illness, or other health problems. When your doctor sees that your white blood cell count is high, he or she will try to find out why, and then treat the cause.

What are the symptoms?

A high white blood cell count alone doesn't cause any symptoms. The symptoms you feel may come from the medical problem that your white blood cells are fighting. For example, if you have pneumonia, you may have a fever and trouble breathing. These are symptoms of pneumonia, not of a high white blood cell count.

How is it treated?

  • Your doctor may do more tests to find the problem that's making your white blood cell count high. Once your doctor finds the problem, he or she may be able to treat it.
  • Part of your treatment may be telling your doctor if you feel worse. Watch your temperature, and call your doctor or nurse advice line if your fever goes up and stays up.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

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