Monitor the health of your community here

What Is a Shift to the Left in Blood Testing?

A complete blood count includes tests of red blood cells (RBCs), platelets, and white blood cells (WBCs). The white blood cell count tells the total number of white cells in a sample of blood, and the differential tells the percentage of each type of white blood cell 1. By convention (since before computer printouts), laboratories reported the WBC and differential in the same order (from left to right): WBC total, bands (immature neutrophils), neutrophils, eosinophils, basophils, lymphocytes, and monocytes. This is the basis for a "shift to the left."

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.

Calculations

The total percentages of the differential (the percentage amount of each type of cell) must add up to 100%. You can calculate the actual number of each type of white blood cell based on its percentage.

The Shift

How to Calculate a Left Shift

Learn More

This then constitutes the "shift to the left."

White Blood Cells

White blood cells vary in number because they are part of the immune system of the body. Some remain dormant in the spleen and other lymph tissue until they are activated as part of the defense system of the body, increasing the number. Additionally, infection stimulates the bone marrow to produce more white blood cells. While normal values range from 5000 to 10,000 in most people, an acute infection (such as appendicitis) can increase this number to 15,000 or higher. (A very high count may also indicate leukemia.)

  • White blood cells vary in number because they are part of the immune system of the body.
  • Some remain dormant in the spleen and other lymph tissue until they are activated as part of the defense system of the body, increasing the number.

Bands and Neutrophils

A High Number of Leukocytes

Learn More

Bands are immature neutrophils, also sometimes called "stabs," which is German for "rods." According to Davis's Comprehensive Handbook of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests, most neutrophils (also called "segs" or "polys") are mature (comprising 50 to 62% of the total white blood cell count) and the percentage of bands is low (3 to 6%). Mature neutrophils are polymorphonuclear, so the nucleus of the cell is divided (poly) and segmented. The bands, on the other hand, have not matured, so they have a band/rod shape.

  • Bands are immature neutrophils, also sometimes called "stabs," which is German for "rods."
  • Mature neutrophils are polymorphonuclear, so the nucleus of the cell is divided (poly) and segmented.

Infection

When infection occurs, the bone marrow starts to rapidly produce neutrophils because they are your body's main defense against bacterial infection. As large numbers of neutrophils are released into the bloodstream, increasing numbers are immature bands; so an increase in bands is the primary indicator of a shift to the left. For example, with an acute infection, the white blood cell count may increase to 15,000, the bands to 10% and the neutrophils to 65%. (The other cells will total 25%).

  • When infection occurs, the bone marrow starts to rapidly produce neutrophils because they are your body's main defense against bacterial infection.
  • As large numbers of neutrophils are released into the bloodstream, increasing numbers are immature bands; so an increase in bands is the primary indicator of a shift to the left.
×