Written by April Kahn | Published on August 7, 2012
Medically Reviewed by Brenda B. Spriggs, MD, MPH, FACP

What is Granulocytosis?

Granulocytosis occurs when there are too many granulocytes in the blood.

Granulocytes are types of white blood cells that, under a microscope, appear to contain small granules or particles. These granules contain a number of proteins important for the function of the immune system. Neutrophils, eosinophils, and basophils are three types of granulocyte.

Granulocytes form and mature in the bone marrow. When granulocytes leave the bone marrow, they circulate through the bloodstream. They respond to signals from the immune system. Their role is to attack foreign matter causing inflammation or infection.

An increase in granulocytes occurs in response to infections, blood cell malignancies (such as leukemia), and some autoimmune diseases.

A high white blood cell count is usually an indicator of infection or disease. Granulocytosis is one type of high white blood cell count.

Granulocytosis can be seen with:

  • bacterial infections or a more serious blood stream infection (sepsis)
  • kidney failure
  • leukemia
  • some autoimmune diseases
  • metastatic cancer
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • abnormal stress, physical or mental
  • burn injuries
  • heart attack
  • habitual smoking
  • the use of some medications like corticosteroids (steroids)

What Causes Granulocytosis to Develop?

The presence of granulocytes in the blood is normal. These white blood cells respond to foreign matter in the body. However, having a high number of granulocytes in the blood is not normal. It usually indicates a health problem.

One main cause of granulocytosis is bone marrow disorders. Bone marrow is the sponge-like tissue found inside of the bones. It contains the stem cells that produce blood cells.

Common bone marrow disorders that cause granulocytosis are:

  • chronic myelogenous leukemia
  • polycythemia vera
  • primary myelofibrosis
  • essential thrombocythemia

Granulocytosis and Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML)

Granulocytosis is the main feature of chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). This is a rare form of blood cell cancer. CML begins in the bone marrow.

People with CML develop the following symptoms:

  • bleeding
  • frequent infections
  • fatigue
  • loss of appetite
  • pale skin
  • pain below the ribs on the left side
  • excessive sweating during sleep

Certain groups of people have a higher risk of developing CML. These include:

  • the elderly
  • men
  • people who have been exposed to radiation, such as during cancer treatment

How Do I Know If I Have Granulocytosis?

This condition is normally diagnosed with a physical examination and complete blood count. The complete blood count measures the amount of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets in your blood. Abnormal numbers of these cells can indicate a disease. If you have granulocytosis, too many granulocytes will be present in your blood.

Treatment for Granulocytosis

Granulocytosis is not a disease, per se. It is a symptom of other conditions. Therefore, it usually isn’t treated directly. Instead, treatment will addressed the condition causing the granulocytosis. This should reduce the number of granulocytes in the blood.

Depending on the cause of granulocytosis, you may need one of the following treatments:

  • surgery
  • blood transfusion
  • chemotherapy
  • radiation therapy
  • medication

In some cases, a bone marrow transplant may be necessary to treat granulocytosis.

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