Immature Granulocytes (IGs): What They Are and What IG Count Means

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Immature Granulocytes (IGs): What They Are and What IG Count Mean
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Immature granulocytes are immature white blood cells. The presence of immature granulocytes in blood test results usually means that your body is fighting an infection or inflammation. When your immune system has to fight an infection or inflammation, your body increases the production of white blood cells in the bone marrow and immature white blood cells are released into the blood. In this case your blood test results will show increased immature granulocyte count (IG count).

Immature granulocytes aren’t usually present in the blood; therefore, doctors can use a complete blood count (CBC) test and white blood cell count (WBC) to monitor the seriousness and progress of infections. The IG count can help doctors support diagnosis when used together with other test results.

Even though immature granulocytes are not usually present in your blood system, you shouldn’t be alarmed if a CBC test shows up small amounts.

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The reasons for a significant increase in the number of immature granulocytes include bacterial infections, acute inflammatory conditions, or even being pregnant can cause more IGs in your blood. Also, elderly people and infants may show increased levels of immature granulocytes.

In this article, you will find out the meaning of having immature granulocytes in a blood test. You will also learn what it means if you have high levels of immature granulocytes and what you should do about it.

What are Immature Granulocytes?

Immature granulocytes are white blood cells that have not fully developed before being released from the bone marrow into the blood. These cells are normally only present in the bone marrow because they are precursors of the immune cells neutrophils, basophils, and eosinophils.

Immature Granulocytes

Blood cell lineage

Healthy people do not have immature granulocytes present in their blood. Having immature granulocytes in your blood indicates substantially increased bone marrow activity.

The presence of immature granulocytes in the blood may occur in various diseases, such as infection or a blood cancer, and thus will often prompt further investigation, which may include additional laboratory testing.

According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, white blood cells called neutrophils, eosinophils, and basophils are all type of immune cell called granulocytes. This type of immune cell has granules (small particles) with enzymes that are released during infections, allergic reactions, and asthma.

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Your body produces about 100 billion neutrophils daily and these mature granulocytes live in the bloodstream. Your bone marrow holds large stores of granulocytes which are released in response to an infection or inflammation.1

If the infection or inflammation is severe or ongoing, your bone marrow may start to mobilize immature granulocytes as stores of mature white blood cells get depleted.

Regarding the function of granulocytes, doctors from MedicineNet say that these microscopic granules contain enzymes that digest microorganisms.2

Normal Immature Granulocytes (IG) Count

If you are healthy and you have no serious infection or acute inflammation, you shouldn’t have immature granulocytes in your blood.

Dr. Choladda Vejabhuti Curry on Medscape says that to test for the number of white blood cells in your bloodstream, doctors do a differential blood count. The standard percentage of the different white blood cells should be as follows: 3

  • Neutrophils – 40–80% (2.0–7.0×10 9 /l)
  • Lymphocytes – 20–40% 1.0–3.0×10 9 /l)
  • Monocytes – 2–10% (0.2–1.0×10 9 /l)
  • Eosinophils – 1–6% (0.02–0.5×10 9 /l)
  • Basophils – < 1–2% (0.02–0.1×10 9 /l)

What do these figures have to do with levels immature granulocytes in your blood? Dr. Curry answers that a differential white blood cell test can also help to reveal populations of immature granulocytes in the blood.

Dr. Curry goes on to explain that an increase in immature granulocytes shows up in automated analyzers. If there is an increase in both immature granulocytes and neutrophils, then a doctor will carry out further tests to determine the cause.4

What does It Mean If You Have High Immature Granulocyte Count?

A high immature granulocyte count means having more than 2% IGs in your white blood cell count.

If your blood test shows up that you have increased white blood cell count and you also have a high immature granulocytes count, then your doctor will run further tests.

Sometimes, doctors refer to the increase in immature granulocytes in a white blood cell count s a “left shift.” This just means that there are more immature white blood cells in the blood which is common when the body fights infection or inflammation.

Because high immature granulocytes are often a sign of infection, you might also have symptoms like a fever, sore throat, flu-like signs, a persistent cough, or signs of a urinary tract infection.

Causes of High Immature Granulocytes

Let’s look in more detail at what doctors say can be the causes of high immature granulocytes.

Pregnancy can cause high immature granulocytes

A blood test during pregnancy may show higher than normal levels of immature granulocytes.

If you are pregnant, doctors usually monitor your blood work to make sure that you and your baby are healthy.

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According to the Indian Journal of Hematology & Blood Transfusion, total blood volume in your body increases by about 1.5 liters. To meet the needs of extra blood, your bone marrow increases white and red blood cell production. This can lead to more immature granulocytes in your blood. The researchers say that this is normal and there is nothing to worry about.5

Elevated immature granulocytes in bacterial infections

A common reason for high immature granulocytes is having a bacterial infection.

As I’ve explained in this article, your immune system produces more white blood cells to combat infections in the body. If your infection is severe or acute, you might see a rise in immature granulocytes in your CBC and differential blood count.

The Journal of Critical Care reports that patients with microbial infections show an increase in the percentage of immature granulocytes. Doctors can use the levels of IGs to determine the extent, severity, and seriousness of the infection.6

Some common bacterial infections that could increase levels of immature granulocytes are strep throat, E. coli infections, sexually transmitted diseases, urinary tract infections, and respiratory tract infections.

For example, if you have a urinary tract infection, as well as having increased white blood cells in your blood, you might have leukocytes in your urine. PubMed Health says that leukocytes are a collective name for white blood cells that include granulocytes, monocytes, and lymphocytes.12

Interestingly, Dr. Lynnus Peng on Medscape says that detecting immature granulocytes can help to determine the severity of bacterial dental infections.7

One way to prevent infections is to give your immune system a natural boost. Natural remedies for boosting your immune system include garlic, vitamin C, and echinacea. Of course, if your body is fighting a serious infection, you should follow the advice from your doctor.

High immature granulocytes is a sign of acute inflammatory conditions

Inflammatory conditions in your body may be to blame for a high immature granulocyte blood count.

According to the Journal of Rheumatology, testing for IGs in a white blood cell count can help to identify certain inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. In fact, researchers have come to realize that levels of IGs and other white blood cells can help to determine the progression of the disease.8

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Detecting immature granulocytes in the bloodstream can also help doctors check for sepsis and monitor its spread. Dr. Jerry R. Balentine on eMedicineHealth says that sepsis is a condition when the body fights an infection that is spread through the bloodstream.11 

The journal BMC Immunology reported that checking for immature granulocytes in WBC tests can help to diagnose sepsis. The researchers said that the “left shift” in the white blood cell count, or in other words, increased percentage of immature granulocytes can help identify this life-threatening condition.9

You can read more about the causes of sepsis, its symptoms and how to reduce your risk for developing it in my article about blood poisoning – signs and symptoms you shouldn’t ignore.

Another inflammatory condition that is linked to increased levels of immature granulocytes is pancreatitis. A Polish medical journal reported that inflammation of the pancreas results in more immature granulocytes being released into the bloodstream. The higher the number of immature granulocytes indicates the severity of the infection.10

Age affects immature granulocyte count

Age can also cause higher levels of immature granulocytes in the bloodstream.

According to Medscape, an increase in over 2% of immature granulocytes in the elderly or newborn infants can sometimes happen. A high level of immature granulocytes without an increase in neutrophils (or, white blood cells) could indicate an acute infection without other symptoms being present.4

Other Causes of High Immature Granulocytes

Apart from the causes of high immature granulocytes already mentioned in this article, there are other conditions that are connected with IGs in the blood. According to Dr. Choladda Vejabhuti Curry on Medscape, high IGs along with increased neutrophils could be caused by:4

  • Certain cancers
  • Tissue necrosis
  • Surgical or orthopedic trauma
  • Bone marrow disorders
  • Steroid use

How to Boost Your Immune System to Fight Infections

As high immature granulocytes are connected to acute inflammatory conditions or bacterial infections, what can you do to boost your immune system to improve the protection of your body against disease-causing organisms?

Cleanse your blood to improve immunity

The health of your blood is closely connected with your body’s immune system and ability to fight infections. Cleansing your blood is a great way to naturally rid toxins from your body and keep yourself in good health.

Blood provides your body’s cells with oxygen and nutrition and removes waste and other unnecessary pollutants. Therefore, purifying your blood is important to keep your body functioning properly and help prevent infections and diseases.

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In my article about the top 17 foods and herbs to cleanse your blood you can find research based information on which foods and herbs can help your liver and kidneys to function better so that they filter out toxins and keep your blood clean. Many of these foods might be already found in your kitchen.

Foods and supplements to boost immunity

Infections can come in many ways. If we look at the common types of infections, we are talking about skin infections, cold, flu, coughing or a runny nose. There are natural substances that can boost your immune system and prevent infections, or if you’ve already developed an infection, you can speed up the healing process with them.

In my article about how to boost your immune system naturally you will find how substances such as zinc, olive leaf complex, vitamin C, garlic, astargalus and echinacea are all used to help your body fight infections.

For example, zinc was found to decrease the duration of colds, and olive leaves contain polyphenols that can fight a large variety of viruses, bacteria, yeasts and fungi. You can make your own olive leaf tea or echinacea tea or use garlic as an antibiotic to ward off infections.

Daily Activities to Improve Your Immunity

In my article about quick life hacks to improve your immunity almost immediately, you can find simple and effective ways to incorporate in your daily life that will greatly improve your immune system.

Lifestyle changes such as getting enough sleep, eating healthy diet, exercising regularly, proper hygiene habits and managing stress levels are just some of the quick ways you can do to strengthen your immune system to build your internal army to fight viruses, bacteria, allergies and all the other enemies lurking all around you.

Probiotics for gut health

There is a lot of interaction between our body’s immune system and bacteria in the gut. Probiotics are a healthy type of bacteria that help the digestive system, immune repair, and immune defense. They keep the bad bacteria from proliferating and ensure better health. In fact, the functions of the gut flora are complex enough to resemble those of an organ, leading some researchers to refer to the gut flora as a “forgotten organ”.

Fermented foods like yogurt, kefir and miso have probiotics, but if you don’t consume sufficient amount of them you may need to consider taking probiotic supplement. You can find more benefits of taking probiotics in my previous article about why probiotics are so good for you.

Cleanse your lymphatic system to improve immunity

The lymph system is a complex drainage system. The lymphatic system consists of lymph nodes, lymphatic vessels, the spleen, and the thymus gland. The lymphatic system plays an important role in fighting infections and absorbing excess fluids, fats, and toxic waste material from your entire body.

In my article about the top 10 natural ways to cleanse your lymphatic system you can find how dry brushing, herbal teas, massage and deep breathing can improve your lymphatic system. As a result you will enjoy a better protection from various infections.

You can also try this 3 day lymphatic cleanse or this lymph cleansing herbal infusion.

Read my other related articles:

Article Sources

  1. Britannica. Neutrophil.
  2. MedicineNet. Granulocyte.
  3. Medscape. Differential blood count. Reference range.
  4. Medscape. Differential blood count. Interpretation.
  5. Indian J Hematol Blood Transfus. 2012 Sep; 28(3): 144–146.
  6. J Crit Care.2014 Aug;29(4):523-7.
  7. Medscape. Dental infections in emergency medicine workup.
  8. J Rheumatol.2000 Jun;27(6):1341-51.
  9. BMC Immunol. 2013; 14: 8.
  10. Prz Gastroenterol. 2017; 12(2): 140–144.
  11. eMedicineHealth. Sepsis (blood infection).
  12. NCBI. Leukocytes (white blood cells).
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