White Blood Cell
Differential Count

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Also known as: Differential leucocyte count; White blood cell morphology; WBC differential; Diff

At a Glance

Why Get Tested?

To diagnose an illness affecting your immune system, such as an infection, inflammatory illness, immune deficiency, or tumour such as leukaemia or lymphoma

When to Get Tested?

As part of a full blood count (FBC), which may be requested for a variety of reasons

Sample Required?

A blood sample taken from a vein in your arm or by a finger-prick (children and adults) or heel-prick (infants)

Test Preparation Needed?

None

The Test Sample

What is being tested?

There are five types of white blood cells, each with different functions: neutrophils, lymphocytes, monocytes, eosinophils and basophils. The differential reveals if these cells are present in normal proportion to one another, if one cell type is increased or decreased, or if immature or abnormal cells are present. This information is helpful in diagnosing specific types of illnesses that affect the immune system.

White blood cells are made in your bone marrow or lymphoid system. They protect your body against infection and aid your immune system. If an infection develops, white blood cells attack and destroy the microorganism causing the infection.

How is the sample collected for testing?

The test is performed on a blood sample taken from a vein in the arm or from a finger-prick (for children and adults) or heel-prick (for infants).

NOTE: If undergoing medical tests makes you or someone you care for anxious, embarrassed, or even difficult to manage, you might consider reading one or more of the following articles: Coping with Test Pain, Discomfort, and Anxiety, Tips on Blood Testing, Tips to Help Children through Their Medical Tests, and Tips to Help the Elderly through Their Medical Tests.

Another article, Follow That Sample, provides a glimpse at the collection and processing of a blood sample and throat culture.

Is any test preparation needed to ensure the quality of the sample?

No test preparation is needed.

The Test

Common Questions

Ask a Laboratory Scientist

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NOTE: This article is based on research that utilizes the sources cited here as well as the collective experience of the Lab Tests Online Editorial Review Board. This article is periodically reviewed by the Editorial Board and may be updated as a result of the review. Any new sources cited will be added to the list and distinguished from the original sources used.