Myelosuppression is a disease which affects the immune system. It causes the body’s white blood cells (leukocytes) to become less effective at fighting off infections and other diseases. A person with myelosuppression may develop fever, fatigue, muscle aches, headaches or joint pain. They are unable to fight off infections effectively because their own immune system is weakened due to the disease. The disease is usually diagnosed when symptoms appear.

The most common symptom of myelosuppression is fever. Other symptoms include:

Fatigue – Fatigue occurs due to low energy levels and the inability to concentrate. This condition makes it difficult for them to perform tasks such as driving or working.

Muscle aches – Muscle aches occur due to low energy levels and lack of concentration. These pains make it difficult for them to do everyday activities such as walking or lifting heavy objects.

Joint pain – Joint pain occurs due to low energy levels and lack of concentration. This condition makes it difficult for them to walk, sit down, stand up or bend over.

Other symptoms include:

Viral myelosuppression – Another symptom of myelosuppression is viral infection. Viral infections cause fever, headache, muscle aches and joint pain. Viral infection is caused by a virus. Viruses are smaller than bacteria and can only be seen with the aid of a microscope.

Viruses cause many different illnesses such as colds and coughs, the flu, sore throat, diarrhea and vomiting. Viruses cannot be treated with antibiotics and it is important to prevent the spread of these viruses by covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when you sneeze and washing your hands regularly.

Immunosuppression – Another symptom of myelosuppression is immunosuppression. Immunosuppression occurs due to a weakened immune system. This condition means that their body cannot fight off infections as well as it should. It makes them more likely to get sick and can also make any sicknesses last longer and be more serious.

Immunosuppression is caused by a weakened immune system due to conditions such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Myelosuppression vs pancytopenia – Myelosuppression and pancytopenia have many similarities. They both cause fever, fatigue, muscle aches and joint pain. They can both be treated in a similar manner with hydration and rest. It is important to seek medical advice if you think you may have either of these conditions.

Bone marrow suppression – Myelosuppression can also be referred to as bone marrow suppression. Bone marrow is in charge of producing red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. As was explained earlier in this article, when myelosuppression occurs the production of these cells is decreased. This condition is more serious than pancytopenia which only affects the production of platelets.

Sickle cell disease – People with sickle cell disease often have low red blood cell counts in addition to other symptoms such as fatigue, pain and fever. It is important that these people get treatment from a doctor or nurse immediately after experiencing these symptoms as they may need an emergency blood transfusion. If left untreated people with sickle cell disease can go into organ failure, become lethargic or suffer a stroke.

People with other blood disorders such as thalassemia may require regular blood transfusions in addition to other treatment to help them lead normal lives. If you think you suffer from any of these conditions it is important to get tested and seek treatment from your doctor or local hospital.

Platelets – Low platelet counts are usually only a serious concern for people with other health issues. If you suffer from any other medical conditions, take regular medication or have recently had surgery it is important to get your platelet levels tested to ensure they are at an acceptable level.

How are low platelet and white blood cell counts caused?

There are many different reasons that you may suffer from either a low white blood cell count or a low platelet count. Common reasons can include:

Illness or infection – If you are suffering from an illness such as the common cold your immune system may divert its attention to fight this off causing a drop in the number of WBCs (white blood cells) and platelets. Some viruses such as the stomach flu can cause vomiting and diarrhea leading to dehydration, which can also cause a drop in your platelet count.

Injury or surgery – Any kind of serious injury such as a car crash, broken bone, gunshot wound, burn or surgery can cause your body to divert its attention to the healing of this injury which can result in a drop in your platelet count.

Cancer – Certain types of cancer can cause a suppression of bone marrow. This is known as myelosuppression and can result in a drop in WBCs and platelets.

Chemotherapy – Certain types of cancer such as leukemia and lymphoma require chemotherapy in order to effectively treat them. Chemotherapy drugs can cause a drop in your platelet count and make you more susceptible to infection. It is common to be given transfusions of platelets during chemotherapy in order to combat the side effects.

Heavy alcohol consumption – Heavy alcohol consumption has been known to cause a drop in your white blood cell count.

Sources & references used in this article:

Model of chemotherapy-induced myelosuppression with parameter consistency across drugs by LE Friberg, A Henningsson, H Maas… – Journal of clinical …, 2002 –

Linezolid and reversible myelosuppression by SL Green, JC Maddox, ED Huttenbach – Jama, 2001 –

Drug-induced myelosuppression by PJ Carey – Drug safety, 2003 – Springer

Mechanistic models for myelosuppression by LE Friberg, MO Karlsson – Investigational new drugs, 2003 – Springer

Effect of recombinant human granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor on chemotherapy-induced myelosuppression by KS Antman, JD Griffin, A Elias… – … England Journal of …, 1988 – Mass Medical Soc