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White Blood Cells: Function of different types




White blood cells in the blood have the important purpose of protecting the body against infections, but also have a role in inflammation and allergic responses.


There are various types of white blood cells and each of them can give us a lot of information around whether the infection; or inflammatory response is bacterial, viral, auto-immune, allergic, acute or chronic.


Different Types of White Blood Cells

White blood cells make up approximately 1% of total blood volume in a healthy adult with a normal range of approximately 4 – 11 x 109/L. There are 5 types of white blood cells:

  • Neutrophils
    • Accounts for approximately 50 – 70% of WBCs with a normal range of 2.5 – 7.5 x 109/L
  • Lymphocytes
    • Accounts for approximately 20 – 40% of WBCs with a normal range of 1.0 – 3.0 x 109/L
  • Monocytes
    • Accounts for approximately 2 – 10% of WBCs with a normal range of 0.2 – 1.0 x 109/L
  • Eosinophils
    • Accounts for approximately 1 – 6% of WBCs with a normal range of 0.02 – 0.5 x 109/L
  • Basophils
    • Accounts for approximately <1 – 2% of WBCs with a normal range of 0.02 – 0.1 x 109/L






White blood cells different types

The easiest way to remember the order of these white blood cells from most abundant to least abundant within our body is to remember this simple phrase:

Never – Neutrophils

Let – Lymphocytes

Monkeys – Monocytes

Eat – Eosinophils

Bananas – Basophils



To remember the normal values of these different white blood cells? I just pick a number somewhere in the middle of the normal percentage range that forms a pattern that is easy to remember:

60% (Neutrophils), 30% (Lymphocytes), 6% (Monocytes), 3% (Eosinophils) and 1% (Basophils)

White Blood Cells Reported as Percentages Versus Values

White blood test absolute count
White Blood Cells Test Absolute and Differential Count






As you can see from the two examples above, the total number of white blood cells are always reported as a number. However, the individual types of white blood cells may be reported as actual numbers (absolute count) and/or percentages (differential count). The actual number of each white blood cell is deduced from percentages because of one simple fact: an increased percentage of one type of white blood cell will always result in a decreased percentage of another type.


So what does that mean?



Let’s take a patient that has a total white blood cell count of 10 x 109/L with the following differential count breakdown:

  • Neutrophil count is 60%
  • Lymphocyte count is 30%
  • Monocyte, eosinophil and basophil count combined are 10%



Based on a total white blood cell count of 10 x 109/L, we can deduce from these percentages (differential count) the actual number (absolute count).

Therefore, the patient in this example would have an absolute count of approximately:

  • 6 x 109/L neutrophils

  • 3 x 109/L lymphocytes

  • 1 x 109/L monocytes, eosinophils and basophils combined



The patient gets an infection and the total white blood cell count increases to 20 x 10^9/L with the following breakdown:

  • Neutrophil count is 80% which would equate 16 x 10^9/L
  • Lymphocyte count is 15% which would equate 3 x 10^9/L
  • Monocyte, eosinophil and basophil count is 5% which would equate 1 x 10^9/L



The important thing to note here is that a decreased percentage for the lymphocytes, monocytes, eosinophils and basophils does not mean that the absolute count for each of these has decreased.

It simply means that the increase in the total white blood cell count is attributed purely to a rise in the absolute count of the neutrophils.

As each type of white blood cell is related to a specific type of process within the body, this understanding allows us to gain further supportive evidence for a patient’s presentation.





The Function of Elevated White Blood Cells Types


These white blood cells are the first responders in acute inflammatory processes and can be altered as a result of:

Elevated Neutrophils

  • Acute infections
    • Cocci, bacilli, fungi, viruses, parasites
    • Abscesses, tonsillitis, appendicitis, osteomyelitis, cholecystitis, meningitis, peritonitis
  • Non-infectious inflammation
    • Postoperative state, cardiopulmonary bypass, burns, trauma, acute asthma, myocardial infarction, acute gout, rheumatic fever, hypersensitivity reactions
  • Metabolic processes
    • Diabetic ketoacidosis, pre-eclampsia, uraemia

Decreased Neutrophils

  • Severe, overwhelming infection in sepsis/septic shock
  • Cancer or chemotherapy
  • Autoimmune disorders


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