Alcohol types

Types, Symptoms, Treatment, Outlook and More

A leukemic reaction is a very large, short-term increase in your white blood cell count that can be mistaken for leukaemia. Some of the potential causes include:

  • infections
  • solid cancers
  • medication side effects

Leukemia is a group of cancers that start in the cells that produce blood cells in your bone marrow. People with leukemia often have extremely high white blood cell counts.

Having a leukemic reaction does not mean you have cancer, but it can be a sign of a potentially serious condition that needs treatment.

Read on to learn more about leukemic reactions, including what they are and what causes them.

A leukemic reaction is defined as a white blood cell count greater than 50,000 cells per microliter (µL) of blood. A microliter is one millionth of a liter.

For reference, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society lists normal white blood cell count ranges as follows:

Blood tests of a person with a leukemia reaction usually show an increase in mature neutrophils and immature granulocytes. These white blood cells play an important role in the frontline defense of your immune system.

Neutrophils are the The most common white blood cells in your bloodstream. They act as first responders to destroy bacteria and other foreign invaders.

Granulocytes are released during infections and inflammatory conditions. They help destroy foreign invaders and signal other white blood cells to attack them as well.

Doctors may further classify a leukemic reaction based on the elevated type of white blood cells.

  • Granulocyte reaction: A granulocyte reaction is the most common type. It is usually characterized by an increase in the number of neutrophils. It can be a sign of infection, certain cancers, and other conditions.
  • Lymphocyte reaction: A lymphocyte reaction is characterized by an increase in a group of white blood cells called lymphocytes. A lymphocyte reaction is often a sign of a immune reaction against cancer cells.
  • Monocyte reaction: A monocyte reaction is an increase in the number of white blood cells called monocytes. These cells multiply in response to infection or injury.

A leukemic reaction is caused by an underlying condition. Symptoms vary depending on the underlying condition you have. Here is a general overview of how the symptoms of some common causes compare to the general symptoms of leukemia.

A leukemia reaction can be due to a variety of conditions that cause inflammation or stress in your body. Conditions that have been linked to leukemic reactions include:

In a 2020 study published in the International Journal of Laboratory Hematology, researchers analyzed the underlying cause of 267 cases of the above white blood cell count 50,000 cells per µL of blood in Brazilian adults over a 2-year period. Researchers found that 60% of cases were caused by blood cancers. Of the 40% that constituted leukemic reactions:

  • 56% were caused by an infection
  • 16% were caused by other solid cancers
  • 28% were caused by other conditions

Small studies have reported leukemic reactions in 1 to 4% non-blood cancers.

People with Down syndrome frequently have an elevated white blood cell count in the first few months of life that usually resolves on its own.

A leukemia reaction is diagnosed when you have a white blood cell count greater than 50,000 cells per µL of blood and do not have blood cancer. Doctors may take a sample of your blood and perform a complete blood count to measure your white blood cell count.

Doctors can usually easily differentiate a leukemic reaction from leukemia by taking a peripheral blood smear. A peripheral blood smear is a test where doctors look at your blood under a microscope.

A doctor can run a variety of other tests to rule out other conditions or find the underlying cause. Tests may include:

  • other blood or urine tests
  • physical examination
  • imagery
  • tissue biopsies
  • genetic test

A leukemia reaction is treated by targeting the underlying condition that is causing it. For example, a bacterial infection, such as tuberculosis, is treated with antibiotics.

The underlying cancer can be treated with therapies such as:

Alcoholic hepatitis can be treated with:

  • stop drinking alcohol
  • vitamin and nutrient supplements
  • liver transplant
  • medications
  • tips

The outlook for a person having a leukemic reaction depends on the underlying cause. Blood cells usually return to normal levels when the underlying condition is treated.

A very high blood count can be a sign that an infection is advanced. In the 2020 study published in the International Journal of Laboratory Hematology,researchers found that people with leukemic reactions associated with infections and cancers had a poor outlook.

A leukemic reaction is a very high white blood cell count caused by an underlying disease that is not blood cancer. Many different conditions can cause a leukemic reaction, such as infections, alcoholic hepatitis, and other cancers.

A doctor can help you figure out why your white blood cell count is high by doing blood tests and other tests. If the underlying cause is treatable, your blood cell count will likely return to normal once treated.