Your immune system is a very complex network of proteins, cells, tissues, and organs in the human anatomy that acts as front-liners against harmful microorganisms. Its primary function is to protect your entire body from any unknown and harmful microbes that have managed to enter your system.
Your body’s immune system comprises several organs including your bone marrow, tonsils, spleen, and lymph nodes. Together, this collective of organs work to produce and nourish white blood cells (also known as immune cells), and antibodies.
Each type of organ, cell, and proteins have individual functions different from each category. Together they identify, attack, and destroy any foreign bodies that pose a threat to your system. The immune system helps to make sure that your body is as sound as it can get to prevent serious complications that might prove to have irreversible damage in your body.
Aside from pathogens and microorganisms that are not a natural part of the human anatomy, the immune system can also take care of hazards that have developed within your body, like cancer cells.
But besides attacking hazards within your body, your immune system can also go “rogue” and attack your own healthy cells in a condition called autoimmune disease.
Contrary to what most people believe, some disease symptoms might actually be an indicator that your immune system works well.
For instance, a microbe has entered your body, having disease symptoms like fever or runny nose could mean that your immune system is reacting to the unwanted microorganisms in your system. Hence you develop disease symptoms that are manifestations of your antibodies trying to fight off a certain disease.
Some individuals, who are less fortunate, suffer from a condition called immunodeficiency or immunocompromised individuals.
Folks who have this condition still have an immune system, but in this case, it does not work as effectively or in more severe cases, their immune system is useless. This renders them easy victims of pathogens and diseases.
Who could you consider as immunocompromised?
Immunocompromised individuals have immune systems with a reduced ability to fight infections and diseases. Someone who’s immunocompromised is more susceptible to getting sick, endures sickness longer, and is more vulnerable to infections.
Immunodeficiency can either be permanent or temporary, it all depends on what caused it, common causes include chronic diseases (Diabetes, Cancer), malnutrition, genetic disorders, and even certain medications.
There are two types of immunodeficiency, the first one is called Primary Immunodeficiency also known as congenital immunodeficiency.
People under this category have had this condition ever since they were born. In this case, the condition is mostly caused by inherited genes that have existed in their family history. Some disorders in this category can prove deadly without proper treatment.
Some examples of primary immunodeficiency are Common Variable Immunodeficiency (CVID), and Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID) sometimes also referred to as “bubble boy disease.”
Children born with SCID are always in constant danger of having severe complications and infections. Most patients under this category are missing important white blood cells that aids in fighting against viruses, bacteria, and fungi. SCID is deadly if not treated.
The other type of immunodeficiency is called Secondary Immunodeficiency. Sometimes referred to as acquired immunodeficiency, this type of immunodeficiency is mainly caused by exposure to external factors.
The risk factors linked to immunosuppressive agents include chemotherapy, aging, immunosuppressive drugs (used after organ transplants), malnutrition, smoking, and alcohol consumption.
Chemotherapy is known to target and attack cancer cells that naturally divide rapidly in your system. However, it is widely known in the medical field that chemotherapy affects healthy cells as much as it affects cancer cells. Some chemotherapy medications are observed to affect the bone marrow, resulting in fewer production of white blood cells and antibodies.
As you get older, your body produces fewer T cells, macrophages, and complement proteins that are key components of your immune system. One reason for underproduction is because some organs that help with the production of white blood cells shrink as you age.
Anesthetics used for major operations may directly affect the functions of healthy white blood cells, and immunosuppression is observed, especially if it is used heavily as long-term sedatives. Surgical trauma can also be accounted for to cause immune suppression.
After an organ transplant, your body might identify the new organ as a harmful element which could cause serious complications. Experts counter this by introducing medications known as immunosuppressants which are administered to avoid organ rejection, leaving the immune system weak.
Immunodeficiency can also be caused by accidents such as severe burns, and damage to organs that are a part of the immune system such as the spleen.
Secondary immunodeficiency can also be caused by diseases that affect the immune system such as leukemia, lymphoma, multiple myeloma, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), and Viral Hepatitis.
Several types of cancer are directly caused by white blood cell growth that has gone uncontrollably. In a way, cancer causes immunodeficiency even without undergoing chemotherapy.
In leukemia, white blood cells grow at a rate where old cells outlive their supposed life-span, the accumulation of too many white blood cells prevents new healthy cells from growing and functioning properly.
Lymphoma, on the other hand, affects the lymphatic system, including the lymph nodes, spleen, thymus, and bone marrow. Lymphoma primarily affects lymphocytes, while leukemia starts from leukocytes production in the bone marrow.
Like leukemia, myeloma starts in the bone marrow, but this cancer primarily affects the plasma cells that help make antibodies in your system to help fight infection.
In general, people with cancer or have undergone specified cancer treatments are considered to be immunocompromised. Hence, they are in greater risk of contracting diseases and even succumbing to them due to immune deficiency.