I got a brief note from a friend recently telling me she had been in the hospital with a very low white blood cell count (WBC: meaning her blood had very few immune cells in it) and her doctors thought it was a reaction to the antibiotics they had given her.
So I did a consult with Dr. Google and Pubmed to have a better look at this. What I found was spotty information, but it is true that a good number of antibiotics can cause this to happen.
Figures I was able to get a hold of ranged from less than 1% to as high as 7% of people will suffer from low white blood cells after taking the drugs. This can happen from as little as 5 days of antibiotics to more than 20 days. And it takes anywhere from 3 days to 30 days to recover.
So, it can happen, but it’s not really common, and tends to happen with extended use of antibiotics. Yet another reason to use antibiotics carefully. They are wonderful drugs (perhaps the best thing that modern medicine has done) that have saved countless lives, but our abuse of them, has caused serious problems.
As a doctor specializing in the treatment of digestive issues, I’ve seen many people’s problems begin with a round of antibiotics.
Has this happened to you?
But more interesting to me was I could not find, despite some serious searching any explanation of how any of the antibiotics cause this to happen. How exactly do antibiotics cause low WBC counts?
Low white blood cells can happen for three basic reasons:
Which of these do antibiotics do (and I recognize that different ones may do different things)?
From what I could find, it seems we don’t know, and that weirds me out.
Why don’t we know? It seems worthwhile to know.
The answer of course, there’s no money in knowing, and it’s not a serious enough side effect for the government or other non-related entity to put up funding.
I did find one case report of a man who developed anti-neutrophil antibodies while on antibiotics (antibodies against one type of WBC) which then disappeared when he went off antibiotics.
So, I haven’t heard back from my friend beyond that first note but she did say she was going to go home soon. It looks like her WBCs should bounce back sometime between 3-30 days if she does nothing. I have to admit though I wouldn’t be comfortable doing nothing.
Here’s what I would do:
Of course, also eating a healthy appropriate diet, getting enough rest, some exercise and managing stress are also critical.
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