Overview of Immunodeficiency Disorders
The immune system is your body's defense system. It helps protect you from illness and infection. The immune system's job is to attack things that don’t belong in your body, such as germs, parasites, and cancer cells.
Immunodeficiency means a weak (deficient) immune system. People with immunodeficiency are sometimes said to be immunosuppressed or immunocompromised.
Your sicknesses may last longer than other people's, and what is a mild infection for other people may make you severely sick.
With a weak immune system, you're not protected well from illness and infection
You'll get sick more often than normal
Common infections may be more dangerous, and you may get unusual infections
You may be born with immunodeficiency or get it from an infection, disease, or medical treatment
If you have immunodeficiency, you'll need to do things to avoid getting an infection
Doctors treat illnesses caused by immunodeficiency with antibiotics, immune globulin, and sometimes stem cell transplantation
Immunodeficiency disorders can be caused by:
A genetic disorder you're born with—though this is rare
An infection such as AIDS
Certain cancers, particularly cancers that affect your bone marrow
Cancer treatments such as radiation therapy and some chemotherapy
Many drugs that doctors use to block inflammation can weaken your immune system. Such drugs are called immunosuppressants. An example is a corticosteroid drug, like prednisone. Sometimes doctors give you immunosuppressants because your immune system is attacking your own body (an autoimmune disorder).
Doctors suspect an immunodeficiency disorder if you're sick a lot, your sicknesses are more severe, or you don't respond normally to treatment. They usually do:
Blood tests may show a very low white blood cell count or low levels of substances made by your immune system. You'll be given an HIV test if you have risk factors for HIV infection. If your child has signs of immunodeficiency doctors may do genetic testing.
Depending on your symptoms, doctors may also do:
Doctors treat the disorder, such as cancer, diabetes, or HIV infection, that is causing your immunodeficiency. Successful treatment usually improves your immune system.
If a medicine you're taking causes immunodeficiency, doctors may decrease the dose or have you stop taking it. Doctors will consider how much you need the medicine and how bad the immunodeficiency is while deciding whether to decrease or stop the medicine.
If immunodeficiency has caused an infection, doctors may give you:
If your immunodeficiency disorder is caused by a bone marrow problem, doctors may do:
Stem cells are cells that develop into blood cells, including the white blood cells that fight infection. Doctors can get stem cells from healthy people and give them to you in an IV. The stem cells can go to your bone marrow and start to make healthy white blood cells.