Why Neutropenic Precautions Are Necessary

The list of neutropenic precautions or restrictions is fairly straightforward, and the precautions make a good deal of sense. When faced with certain restrictions or precautions on what we do, or how we act, it’s always fair to ask why they are in place. The need for these precautions is better understood by first knowing what the meaning of neutropenic is. In order to do that, we need to go back a little farther and find out a little about what neutropenia is and what neutrophils are.


What Neutropenia And Neutropenic Mean


Neutrophils are immature white blood cells. They are produced by stem cells, and are important because they are warriors. Neutrophils are the immune system’s first line of defense against a bacterial infection. We often see the results of infection in the form of the pus which is created by an accumulation of white blood cells, but it is the neutrophils that actually do much of the work in fighting the infection. When there is a deficiency of these neutrophils, the immune system cannot fight infection as easily. The suffix “penic” in “neutropenic” means “a deficiency”. Neutropenia is a condition in which a person has a deficiency of infection-fighting neutrophils.


White Blood Count Tells The Tale


When a person is suspected of being neutropenic, one of the first things a doctor will do is examine that person’s white blood count (WBC) to find out the percentage of neutrophils among the white blood cells. The higher this percentage is, the less the person is at risk of having an infection. Doctors have a standard system for calculating these percentages, based upon their analysis of a patient’s white blood count, coupled with an examination of the cells themselves. One person might have a mild case of neutropenia, another a severe case of neutropenia, and a third person might not be neutropenic at all. Fortunately, the great majority of us fall into the latter category.


There can be several causes of neutropenia. Sometimes, genetics can play a role. One of the more common causes is leukemia, which attacks the white blood cells. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can also contribute to the condition since the neutrophils are quite sensitive to these treatments. One reason that chemotherapy and radiation therapy can cause problems is that the neutrophils have a rather short life span, and they need to constantly be replenished. The therapy treatments often inhibit the replenishment of the neutrophils. It can, for example, take anywhere from eight days to three months for the percentage of neutrophils in the bloodstream to return to normal following a radiation or chemotherapy treatment.


Neutropenic Precautions


So where do precautions for neutropenia come into the picture? Unfortunately, it is usually after some damage has already been done. The precautions are not put in place to prevent neutropenia, but rather to protect someone who is already suffering from it. These precautions most often are instituted when a person has a severe enough case of neutropenia to require hospitalization or special care. The person, or patient, has to be constantly protected against bacteria, and in extreme cases may have to be kept in isolation.


If you visit a neutropenic in a hospital, you may be asked to wear a mask over your mouth during the visit. If you show any symptoms of having a communicable disease, you may in some instances not even be allowed to visit the patient. You may not be allowed to bring the patient flowers or plants, or in some cases food. The neutropenic patient usually needs to bathe daily and wash hands after touching things. They are usually required to pay special attention to mouth hygiene.


The Importance Of Diet


One of the more common types of neutropenic precautions has to do with diet. A person suffering from neutropenia often cannot eat fresh fruits or vegetables because of the bacteria they contain. Their food must be well cooked. That is because their immune system cannot tolerate the presence of the otherwise harmless bacteria that are ingested with fresh fruits and vegetables. This is why leukemia patients are sometimes on a strict diet. They have a shortage of neutrophils, and therefore are more susceptible to infection.

The Symptoms Can Be Misleading


A person suffering from neutropenia may not always show symptoms of having a weakened immune system as far as their reaction to an infection is concerned. That is because the evidence that an infection exists is often not observable since the infection is not being dealt with effectively by the immune system. Rather than pain or external signs of infection, the victim may exhibit respiratory symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, diarrhea, or bloody stools. The symptoms, in other words, don’t always point directly to the cause. Neutropenia is most likely to be found to be the cause behind a patient’s symptoms once the doctor conducts a blood test and looks into the white blood count.