BACKGROUND: Intracerebral hemorrhage (ICH) is a devastating disease that carries a 30 day mortality of approximately 45%. Only 20% of survivors return to independent function at 6 months. The role of inflammation in the pathophysiology of ICH is increasingly recognized. Several clinical studies have demonstrated an association between inflammatory markers and outcomes after ICH; however the relationship between serum biomarkers and functional outcomes amongst survivors has not been previously evaluated. Activation of the inflammatory response as measured by change in peripheral leukocyte count was examined and assessment of mortality and functional outcomes after ICH was determined. FINDINGS: Patients with spontaneous ICH admitted to a tertiary care center between January 2005 and April 2010 were included. The change in leukocyte count was measured as the difference between the maximum leukocyte count in the first 72 hours and the leukocyte count on admission. Mortality was the primary outcome. Secondary outcomes were mortality at 1 year, discharge disposition and the modified Barthel index (MBI) at 3 months compared to pre-admission MBI. 423 cases were included. The in-hospital mortality was 30.4%. The change in leukocyte count predicted worse discharge disposition (OR = 1.258, p = 0.009). The change in leukocyte count was also significantly correlated with a decline in the MBI at 3 months. These relationships remained even after removal of all patients with evidence of infection. CONCLUSIONS: Greater changes in leukocyte count over the first 72 hours after admission predicted both worse short term and long term functional outcomes after ICH.