|Classification and external resources|
Agranulocytosis, also known as agranulosis or granulopenia, is an acute condition involving a severe and dangerous leukopenia (lowered white blood cell count), most commonly of neutrophils causing a neutropenia in the circulating blood. It represents a severe lack of one major class of infection-fighting white blood cells. People with this condition are at very high risk of serious infections due to their suppressed immune system.
In agranulocytosis, the concentration of granulocytes (a major class of white blood cells that includes neutrophils, basophils, and eosinophils) drops below 100 cells/mm³ of blood, which is less than 5% of the normal value.
The term "agranulocytosis" derives from the Greek: a, meaning without; granulocyte, a particular kind of white blood cell (containing granules in its cytoplasm); osis, meaning condition [esp. disorder]. Consequently, agranulocytosis is sometimes described as "no granulocytes", but a total absence is not required for diagnosis. However, "-osis" is commonly used in blood disorders to imply cell proliferation (such as in "leukocytosis"), while "-penia" to imply reduced cell numbers (as in "leukopenia"); for these reasons granulopenia is a more etymologically consistent term and as such should be preferred compared to "agranulocytosis" (which can be misinterpreted as "agranulocyt-osis", meaning proliferation of agranulocytes (i.e. lymphocytes and monocytes). Despite this, "agranulocytosis" remains the most widely used term for the condition.
The terms agranulocytosis, granulocytopenia and neutropenia are sometimes used interchangeably. Agranulocytosis implies a more severe deficiency than granulocytopenia. Neutropenia indicates a deficiency of neutrophils (the most common granulocyte cell) only.
To be precise, neutropenia is the term normally used to describe absolute neutrophil counts (ANC) of less than 500 cells per microlitre, whereas agranulocytosis is reserved for cases with ANC of less than 100 cells per microlitre.
The following terms can be used to specify the type of granulocyte referenced:
- Inadequate numbers of neutrophils: neutropenia (most common)
- Inadequate numbers of eosinophils: eosinopenia (uncommon)
- Inadequate numbers of basophils: basopenia (very rare)
Signs and symptoms
Agranulocytosis may be asymptomatic, or may clinically present with sudden fever, rigors and sore throat. Infection of any organ may be rapidly progressive (e.g., pneumonia, urinary tract infection). Septicemia may also progress rapidly.
A large number of drugs have been associated with agranulocytosis, including antiepileptics, antithyroid drugs (carbimazole, methimazole, and propylthiouracil), antibiotics (penicillin, chloramphenicol and co-trimoxazole), cytotoxic drugs, gold, NSAIDs (indomethacin, naproxen, phenylbutazone, metamizole), mebendazole, the antidepressant mirtazapine, and some antipsychotics (the atypical antipsychotic clozapine). Clozapine users in the United States, Canada, and the UK must be nationally registered for monitoring of low WBC and absolute neutrophil counts (ANC).
Although the reaction is generally idiosyncratic rather than proportional, experts recommend that patients using these drugs be told about the symptoms of agranulocytosis-related infection, such as a sore throat and a fever.
The Centers for Disease Control recently traced outbreaks of agranulocytosis among cocaine users, in the US and Canada between March 2008 and November 2009, to the presence of levamisole in the drug supply. The Drug Enforcement Administration reported that, as of February 2010, 71% of seized cocaine lots coming into the US contained levamisole as a cutting agent. Levamisole is an antihelminthic (i.e. deworming) drug used in animals. The reason for adding levamisole to cocaine is unknown, although it can be due to their similar melting points and solubilities.
The diagnosis is made after a complete blood count, a routine blood test. The absolute neutrophil count in this test will be below 500, and can reach 0 cells/mm³. Other kinds of blood cells are typically present in normal numbers.
To formally diagnose agranulocytosis, other pathologies with a similar presentation must be excluded, such as aplastic anemia, paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria, myelodysplasia and leukemias. This requires a bone marrow examination that shows normocellular (normal amounts and types of cells) blood marrow with underdeveloped promyelocytes. These underdeveloped promyelocytes, if fully matured, would have been the missing granulocytes.
In patients that have no symptoms of infection, management consists of close monitoring with serial blood counts, withdrawal of the offending agent (e.g., medication), and general advice on the significance of fever.
Transfusion of granulocytes would have been a solution to the problem. However, granulocytes live only ~10 hours in the circulation (for days in spleen or other tissue), which gives a very short-lasting effect. In addition, there are many complications of such a procedure.
- eMedicine/Stedman Medical Dictionary
- Systematic Review: Agranulocytosis Induced by Nonchemotherapy Drugs, Ann Intern Med. 2007;146:657-665
- Diaz, Jaime. How Drugs Influence Behavior. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1996.
- U.S. Department of Justice, National Drug Intelligence Center, National Drug Threat Assessment 2010, Colombian Cocaine Producers Increase Use of a Harmful Cutting Agent, February 2010.
- "Agranulocytosis Associated with Cocaine Use --- Four States, March 2008--November 2009." Centers for Disease Control: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. December 18, 2009/Vol. 58/No. 49  Cited in Hsu, Jeremy. "Majority of U.S. Cocaine Supply Cut with Veterinary Deworming Drug." Popsci.com. December 18, 2009.