Elevated lymphocytes: causes, symptoms and treatment

Our body is a complex organism that constantly interacts with the environment. Despite this complexity, it is extremely delicate, requiring its proper functioning of a balance or a homeostasis that various external agents could end up altering and destroying.

Fortunately, we have a system dedicated to defending ourselves against attacks from substances outside our body by destroying them: the immune system, which, through cells such as lymphocytes, acts to target and destroy elements potentially harmful to our body. But sometimes the body generates more than normal amount of lymphocytes, having the subject high lymphocytes.

Lymphocytes in the immune system

Lymphocytes are one of the most important types of cells in our body because they allow the body to fight against the possible arrival of bacteria and viruses that can cause us disease. It is a type of white blood cell, or leukocyte, which is part of the immune system and circulates regularly in the blood. There are different types, the best known being T, B and NK lymphocytes or natural killers..

When faced with infection or aggression by agents outside the body itself, these cells work by binding to the substance that generated the reaction of the immune system (the so-called antigen) and by synthesizing antibodies, so either destroy or serve as a marker for other cells called phagocytes or certain lymphocyte subtypes (like NKs or natural killers) to destroy the suspected harmful agent. Lymphocytes can also store information about these antigens, making it easier for the immune system to remember and reject any entry into the body of the same antigen that occurs later.

Although they usually act on harmful foreign cells, they do not need to be pathogenic, and disproportionate reactions to harmless substances such as allergies, rejection responses to implants, or even attacks on healthy cells can. be observed. the immune system is not working properly.

Lymphocytosis or the presence of elevated lymphocytes

In general, we have stable levels of this cell type, which in most adults ranges between 1,500 and 4,000 leukocytes per milliliter. However, under different circumstances we can see that these lymphocyte levels can even go off, indicating that the body is acting to try to defend itself against an invading agent. When these levels are above 4000 / ml, we can be considered to have elevated lymphocytes, a condition also called lymphocytosis.

It should be noted that in children normal values ​​are between 5,000 and 7,000, so the existence of elevated lymphocytes will mean that these are the levels that are exceeded. In childhood, lymphocytosis is also more common.

Having elevated lymphocytes does not necessarily have to generate symptoms, although in general, symptoms derived from the cause that causes the body to generate so many lymphocytes appear. As it is most common following infection, it is common for hypothermia, exhaustion, fever, digestive problems such as nausea and vomiting, chills. It is also common for breathing problems, weight loss, poor concentration, and visual and hearing ability. Also muscle stiffness, mucus and tissue inflammation.

This increase in lymphocytes, if sustained over time, increases the chances that the subject will suffer from different types of cancer.. It has also been linked to the onset of type 1 diabetes, allergies and asthma.

Causes and types

Having elevated lymphocytes is usually not a medical condition or problem in itself, but an effect or reaction of the body to a given situation. Typically, lymphocytes are elevated in situations such as autoimmune diseases or, which is the most common reason, the presence of viral and / or bacterial infections.

So there are several factors that can cause us to have elevated lymphocytes, but in general we can find two large groups of them. This is what distinguishes two types of lymphocytosis or elevated lymphocytes.

1. Monoclonal lymphocytosis

First, there is monoclonal lymphocytosis, which is caused by an alteration in the lymph which causes it to generate many more lymphocytes than usual or not to function properly. This happens without an external factor appearing. This is what happens in cancers such as leukemia or other related types of tumors.

In addition to this, one can also find, as we said, autoimmune diseases such as sclerosis, the existence of tumors or the presence of myeloproliferative problems such as leukemia.

2. Polyclonal lymphocytosis

In this case, you have high lymphocytes due to the existence of an infection or the appearance of an external factor which induces a defensive response in the body. This is the case with infections and allergies.

Among the different infections in which it can appear are viral infections such as HIV (Although they ultimately reduce AIDS considerably, upon the initial infection there is some lymphocytosis which seeks to work to clear the infection) and other STDs, whooping cough or influenza, rubella or herpes. It is also considered such situations in which we have high lymphocytes due to stress or substance poisoning.


If our lymphocyte counts are exaggeratedly high, they will have to be lowered, and that is why we are going to have to fight against why they are present in such quantities. So, in case of infection with antibiotics and antivirals, they will lead to a slowing down of the infectious process and a gradual return of leukocyte levels to normal.

At the pharmacological level, can be applied immunosuppressants such as methotrexate or steroids such as the widely known glucocorticoids. In case of allergies, it is also recommended to avoid the element that causes them and / or to use epinephrine in case of a potentially fatal reaction. If the cause is cancer like leukemia, radiation therapy and chemotherapy will also be applied.

Other strategies that can complement the above are lymphocyte reduction through diet, hydration, and exercise, which will help us cleanse our bodies of harmful agents that can cause our body’s defensive response (well as exercise helps to generate lymphocytes, it can also be used to reduce the causes that are high).

The use of relaxation and meditation methods can also help resolve cases in which lymphocytosis has a psychogenic cause, as well as the application of expressive therapies, problem management, and stress regulation.

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