Should you see a medical specialist? The 4-1-1 on stress, nutrition, and white blood cell count

The value of a specialist cannot be minimized. Just as a person with heart issues is best served by a cardiologist, an individual who appears to have immune system disorders is advised to see a board certified immunologist.

“There are a lot of people who try to diagnose immune disorders,” explained Dr. Maeve O’Connor, who has been listed in the Best Doctors of America database for the past 17 years and is a board certified expert by both the American Board of Internal Medicine and Allergy / Immunology. “But they are not board-certified immunologists with the specific experience of taking care of patients with immune deficiencies.”

Why is that important? Because if you are living with an immunodeficiency, it is imperative that you are in the right hands.

“Immunologists can take more of a thorough, targeted history and give a proper diagnosis,” said O’Connor. “You really want somebody who understands how immune deficiency presents in a person, as well as how to properly diagnose it so the treatment can be tailored correctly.”

In addition, “You want someone you can partner with who can take care of you through diagnosis, treatment and all the complications that need to be looked for if you get an infection,” she explained.

How can being evaluated by an immunologist be beneficial to your overall health?

One example is if you suffer from recurring infections, visits to an urgent care or primary doctor can become unproductive. A patient who has an immune deficiency is best treated by an immunologist who will know “whether you truly need a microbial for an infection or something else.”

“They can also tailor it to some of the certain bugs you can be infected with if you have an immune problem,” O’Connor said.

One aspect of routine blood work that has piqued my interest over the past few years is the body’s white blood cell count.

Cleveland Clinic states that white blood cells “are responsible for protecting your body from infection.  As part of your immune system, white blood cells circulate in your blood and respond to injury.”*

When asked the best way to maintain an ideal white blood cell count and why that is so important, O’Connor explained. If you have an infection site on your body, “the white blood cell army arrives, they fight the invader by producing antibodies that attach to the organism and destroy it.”

She said patients need to “maintain what I call homeostasis – not only in our immune system, but overall.”

That includes “doing all the things that we all know we are supposed to do – that are really hard to do.”

“These critical things are:

*Maintaining a good work/life balance

*Maintaining a healthy weight

*Getting quality sleep

*Minimizing screen time

*Staying properly hydrated

“Eating well (nutritiously)

*Exercising regularly

*Keeping stress levels low”  

“Everything in moderation,” O’Connor encouraged. 

When asked if there any specific forms of exercise she views as most helpful for the human body to maintain optimal health, O’Connor said, “Good stretching, strength training and cardio are important.”

To maintain a healthy white blood cell count, it is important to have “nutritional building blocks – to have a good diet, filled with iron, calcium and other vitamins.” As well, “keeping your stress low because stress has been known to decrease your immunity.” 

An interesting fact, “white blood cells account for 1% of your blood.”

Common causes of low white blood cell count include: “Bone marrow failure, drug exposure (chemotherapy), vitamin deficiency (B12), HIV/AIDS, and bone marrow attacked by cancer cells.”*

Common causes of high white blood cell count include: “Autoimmune disorders, viral infections, bacterial infections, allergies, leukemia or Hodgkin’s disease, physical injury or stress.”*

If a patient has a white blood cell deficiency, “They need to be diagnosed properly and treated” O’Connor said. One treatment is “bone marrow stimulation to get their white blood cell count up.”

One of the most vital reminders from O’Connor is that “Immune deficiencies don’t discriminate. They can affect anyone.”

In addition to her other notable credentials, Dr. Maeve O’Connor is one of a handful of specialists to have completed the University of Arizona Fellowship of Integrative Medicine. 



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