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Neutropenia: Care Instructions


Neutropenia (say "noo-truh-PEE-nee-uh") means that your blood has too few neutrophils. These are white blood cells that help protect the body from infection. They do this by killing bacteria.

Neutropenia can be caused by some types of infection. It also can be caused by immune system conditions such as HIV or lupus, a lack of vitamin B12 or folic acid, or an enlarged spleen. Some medicines can cause it too. It is most often caused by treatments for certain health problems, such as chemotherapy and radiation treatment for cancer.

Mild neutropenia usually causes no symptoms. But when it's severe, it increases the risk of infection of your skin and organs. That's because your body can't fight off germs as well as it should.

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.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse advice line if you have any problems with your medicine.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Eat foods with a lot of fibre. This helps to prevent constipation.

Prevent infections

  • Take your temperature several times a day, as your doctor suggests. Keep a written record of your temperature readings. Fever is a common symptom of infection. And it may be the only symptom.
  • Use a soft toothbrush. Do not floss your teeth. Talk with your doctor about other steps to prevent infections in your mouth.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially before you eat and after you use the toilet.
  • If you are a woman, use sanitary napkins (pads) instead of tampons. Do not douche.
  • Do not use rectal thermometers or suppositories.
  • Avoid tasks that might expose you to germs, such as disposing of pet feces or urine.
  • Avoid crowds of people and anyone who might have an infection or an illness such as a cold or influenza (flu). You may need to avoid people who have recently had certain kinds of vaccinations.
  • Even small injuries can get infected. Take steps to prevent cuts, burns, and sunburns.
  • If you have severe neutropenia, your doctor may advise you to avoid fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have severe shortness of breath.
  • You passed out (lost consciousness).

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have a fever or chills. Or you may be sweating.
  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness of your skin.
    • Red streaks leading from a wound.
    • Pus draining from a wound.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.