White Blood Cells

What Are White Blood Cells?

White blood cells are an important component of your blood system, which is also made up of red blood cells, platelets, and plasma.

Although your white blood cells account for only about 1 percent of your blood, their impact is significant. White blood cells, also called leukocytes, are essential for good health and protection against illness and disease.

Think of white blood cells as your immunity cells. In a sense, they are continually at war. They flow through your bloodstream to battle viruses, bacteria, and other foreign invaders that threaten your health. When your body is in distress and a particular area is under attack, white blood cells rush in to help destroy the harmful substance and prevent illness.

White blood cells are produced inside the bone marrow and stored in your blood and lymphatic tissues. Because some white blood cells have a short lifespan of one to three days, your bone marrow is constantly producing them.

Types of white blood cells

Among your white blood cells are:

Problems affecting white blood cells

Your white blood cell count can be low for a number of reasons: when something is destroying the cells more quickly than the body can replenish them or when the bone marrow stops making enough white blood cells to keep you healthy. When your white blood cell count is low, you are extremely susceptible to any illness or infection, which can spiral into a serious health threat.

Your physician can see whether your white blood cell count is normal through a blood test known as the complete blood count. If your count is too low or too high, you may have a white blood cell disorder.

A number of diseases and conditions may influence white blood cell levels:

Other conditions, such as extreme physical stress caused by an injury or emotional stress, can trigger high white blood cell levels, as can inflammation, labor or the end of pregnancy, smoking, or even extreme exercise.


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Adapted from the University of Rochester Medical Center Health Encyclopedia

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