The term “left shift” means that a particular population of cells is “shifted” towards more immature precursors (meaning that there are more immature precursors present than you would normally see). Take the neutrophil series, for example. In normal blood, the neutrophils are virtually all mature (segmented). In a left shift, you see mature neutrophils but also immature neutrophils (bands, metamyelocytes, myelocytes, etc.). Check out the photo of a left shift, above: most of the cells are immature.
The term “left shift” almost always refers to the neutrophil series. It arose during the days when cells were counted by hand using a manual counting machine. The most mature cells (segmented neutrophils) were assigned to the right-most button, the least mature cells (myeloblasts) were assigned to the left-most button, and the other stages of cells were spread out in order in the buttons in between. In a normal blood smear, virtually all the neutrophils fell under the right-most counting button, but sometimes, it was noted that there were earlier precursors present (e.g., myelocytes, metamyelocytes, or promyelocytes). In these instances, the cells were “shifted” towards the left.
Most of the time, when you see a left shift, it means that the patient has an infection – often a bacterial one. Sometimes a left shift can occur when there is inflammation or necrosis. Beware, though, if you see nucleated red cells in addition to left-shifted neutrophils. This is called a leukoerythroblastotic reaction, and it may indicate a more serious problem. Sometimes, a leukoerythroblastotic reaction is physiologic. If the hemoglobin is very low (for whatever reason – severe iron deficiency, massive blood loss), the bone marrow tries very hard to make new red cells and send them out into the blood as fast as possible. Sometimes, it is a little overzealous, and it lets a few red cell precursors (nucleated red cells) slip out of the marrow too. And sometimes, it is so freaked out that it starts letting neutrophil precursors (metamyelocytes, myelocytes, promyelocytes) out too! This is a normal response to a severe anemia.
Sometimes, however, a leukoerythroblastotic reaction is pathologic. If the marrow is full of something besides hematopoietic tissue – say, for example, a carcinoma, or a leukemia – then the hematopoietic cells will not have enough room and space to mature properly. They will end up leaving home before they are ready, and you’ll see both nucleated red cells and neutrophil precursors in the blood. This is an ominous sign.
One way to determine whether a leukoerythroblastotic reaction is worrisome is to look at the hemoglobin. As mentioned above, if the hemoglobin is very low (say, below 6), then the leukoerythroblastotic reaction is probably physiologic. However, if the hemoglobin is normal, or only slightly decreased, then there is no good reason for the patient to have a leukoerythroblastotic reaction, and you’d better figure out what’s causing it.
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I’m a lay person and have been around medicine for years now. And reading my own health test, I ran across this subject and you were awesome explaining it. Thank you.
You did a great job by breaking It down to a layman understanding. Thanks
Thanks, Kathleen!! So glad you liked it.
Thanks, Victoria! I’m glad it was understandable 🙂
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I have to tell you I have learnt so much from your posts than I havee done in so many hours of studying my texts. Thank you seems very less but that’s all I have. Thank you.
Also I have a question. How do we differentiate a band cell from a monocyte in a peripheral smear?
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The way you write makes it so enjoyable and easy to understand. Thank you for helping out with our learning process.
Can u explain the difference between shift to left and leukemoid reaction
Yes! Well, sort of. “Left shift” just means that there are immature neutrophil precursors in the blood. “Leukemoid reaction” is a term that doesn’t have a single definition. The term “leukemoid” means something that looks like leukemia (“leuk-“) but isn’t (“-oid”). It’s usually used to refer to the blood, and it’s usually used to refer to the neutrophil series (although you can’t tell that from the term itself!). The annoying thing about this term is that it isn’t very specific. It could mean that the white count is very high, or that there are immature cells present. It’s an older term that isn’t used much anymore because of this lack of specificity. Instead, we use more definitive terms, like “leukocytosis” (if the white count is high) or “left shift” (if there are immature neutrophils present). So if you see or hear “leukemoid reaction” you’ll need to do a little investigating to find out what the person means.
Good question! Two things: chromatin pattern and cytoplasm. Bands have a clumpy chromatin pattern, just like segmented neutrophils. Monocyte chromatin isn’t clumpy. It has a “raked” appearance – it looks like someone dragged a little rake across the nucleus. The cytoplasm of bands is full of specific granulation (that pinkish or “fawn-colored” granulation you see in segmented neutrophils). The cytoplasm of monocytes doesn’t have any specific granulation – and it has a “dishwater” cytoplasm, meaning that it’s kind of a dirty-looking lavender-blue color.
Good examples, clearly explained.
I can appreciate this info. It is something I am going through at this moment looking at my test results and not getting any info from the doctors, just results so I decided to get the info myself. Thank you very much