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T-cell count

Definition

T cells are a type of white blood cells called lymphocytes. They make up part of the immune system. T cells help the body fight diseases or harmful substances.

A test can be done to measure the number of T cells in your blood.

Alternative Names

Thymus derived lymphocyte count; T-lymphocyte count

How the test is performed

A blood sample is needed. For information on how this is done, see: Venipuncture

In the laboratory, the white blood cells (including T cells) are separated from the other blood cells. A stain or other substance that "labels" the cells is added to the sample to help identify which type of white blood cells are present.

How to prepare for the test

No special preparation is necessary.

How the test will feel

When the needle is inserted to draw blood, some people feel moderate pain, while others feel only a prick or stinging sensation. Afterward, there may be some throbbing.

Why the test is performed

Your doctor may order this test if you have signs of an immunodeficiency disorder or a disease of the lymph nodes. It is also used to monitor how well therapy for these types of diseases is working.

Normal Values

Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Some labs use different measurements or test different samples. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.

What abnormal results mean

Higher than normal T-cell levels may be due to:

Lower than normal T-cell levels may be due to:

What the risks are

Risks associated with having blood drawn are slight:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Fainting or feeling light-headed
  • Hematoma (blood accumulating under the skin)
  • Infection (a slight risk any time the skin is broken)
  • Multiple punctures to locate veins

Note: This test is often performed on people with altered immune systems. Therefore, the risk for infection may be somewhat greater than when blood is drawn from a person with a normal immune system.

Special considerations

This following can affect test results:

  • medicationsChemotherapy
  • Corticosteroids
  • Immunosuppressive medications
  • Radiation therapy
  • Stress
  • Surgery

References

Berliner N. Leukocytosis and leukopenia. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds.. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2011:chap 170.

Encyclopedia content is provided as information only and not intended to replace the advice and instruction from your personal physician.