20 January 2020

Lymphopenia could be an early warning for future illness, with low lymphocyte counts associated with an increase in all-cause mortality, Danish researchers have reported.

The researchers, who reported in Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), suggest the link between lymphopenia and a 60% increase in death from any cause could be due to reduced immune capacity to survive potentially lethal diseases. Lymphopenia could also indicate frailty, which could contribute towards illness and death.

Lymphopenia is often detected during routine blood tests, although patients are not usually referred for further investigation, as the value of lymphopenia as a predictor of future health has not been known until now.

The study examined data from 108,135 people aged 20-100 of Danish descent who were enrolled in the Copenhagen General Population Study between 2003 and 2015. During a median follow-up period of nine years, a total of 10,372 people died.

The team found that an incidental finding of a low lymphocyte count was associated with a 1.6-fold increase in the risk of death from any cause, and a 1.5- to 2.8-fold increased risk of death from specific causes, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, infections and other causes. Older age was associated with decreasing lymphocyte counts.

The authors write: “Using the absolute 2-year risks of all-cause mortality, physicians can identify high-risk individuals with lymphopenia (e.g., smokers older than 80 years) who might benefit from additional surveillance.”

Source: Warny M, Helby J, Nordestgaard BG, Birgens H, Bojesen SE (2020) “Incidental lymphopenia and mortality: a prospective cohort study”, CMAJ, doi: 10.1503/cmaj.191024


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