PURPOSE: To determine the clinical features, causes, and prognostic significance of extreme leukocytosis in adults. PATIENTS AND METHODS: Medical records of 100 consecutive patients who presented at the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Medical Center between March 1993 and January 1994 with more than 25,000 leukocytes/μL blood and with more than 50% granulocytes were reviewed. Demographic, clinical, and outcome information was recorded, and a cause of extreme leukocytosis was sought in each case. RESULTS: Extreme leukocytosis was attributed to infection in 48 cases, advanced malignancy in 13 cases, hemorrhage in 9 cases, glucocorticoids in 8 cases, and other causes in 22 cases. Four patients had previously diagnosed conditions resulting in chronic leukocytosis. Higher leukocyte counts were associated with malignancy (χ for trend=12.5, P <0.002). Fever was more common in patients with infection (weighted rate ratio=3.7, 95% Confidence interval [CI] =2.2 to 6.2). Mortality was high overall (31%), and was greater in patients with noninfectious diagnoses compared with infected patients, an association which persisted after stratification by leukocyte count (weighted rate ratio=2.5, 95% CI= 1.2 to 4.9). CONCLUSION: Clinicians should be aware that extreme leukocytosis with a predominance of granulocytes is associated with infection in only 48% of cases. The presence of fever increases the likelihood that infection is the cause. Mortality is high, particularly in patients without infection.