What is the role of leukopenia in the assessment of septic arthritis?

Chelsea R. Brown, Richard Samade, Daniel Lynch, John Mickley, Karilyn T.M. Larkin, Amy L. Speeckaert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: It is not well-understood how leukopenia affects the synovial white blood cell (WBC) and percent neutrophils (%PMNs) in the setting of septic arthritis. We sought to determine 1. Do synovial WBC and %PMNs differ between patients with culture positive septic arthritis with or without leukopenia? And 2. Are traditional thresholds of synovial fluid studies for accurately diagnosing septic arthritis still applicable in the leukopenic patient population? Methods: A retrospective cohort study was performed at a single institution of 79 non-leukopenic and 11 leukopenic patients diagnosed with culture-positive septic arthritis. Demographic data, serum laboratory values, synovial laboratory values, and culture results were recorded. Significant differences in synovial laboratory values were evaluated using the Wilcoxon-Mann-Whitney test. Results are reported as median, interquartile range, and p values. Results: There was a significant difference in synovial WBC in leukopenic patients compared to non-leukopenic patients with culture positive septic arthritis (p = 0.01). No significant difference was found in the synovial %PMNs between two cohorts (p = 0.33). Conclusion: Leukopenic patients with culture positive septic arthritis have significantly lower synovial WBCs compared to non-leukopenic patients. Traditional thresholds for synovial WBC are not reliable for excluding diagnosis of septic arthritis in leukopenic patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13-17
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Orthopaedics
StatePublished - Jul 1 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Leukopenia
  • Neutropenia
  • Septic arthritis
  • Synovial white blood cell count
  • White blood cell count

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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