Is an Immunodeficiency Disorder?
Immunodeficiency disorders prevent your body from adequately
fighting infections and diseases. An immunodeficiency disorder also makes it easier
for you to catch viruses and bacterial infections in the first place.
Doctors often categorize immunodeficiency disorders as
either congenital or acquired. A congenital, or primary, disorder is one you
were born with. Acquired, or secondary, disorders are disorders you get later
in life. Acquired disorders are more common than congenital disorders.
Your immune system includes the following organs:
- bone marrow
- lymph nodes
These organs make and release lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are
white blood cells classified as B cells and T cells. B and T cells fight
invaders called antigens. B cells release antibodies specific to the disease
your body detects. T cells kill off cells that are under attack by disease.
Examples of antigens that your B and T cells might need to
fight off include:
- cancer cells
An immunodeficiency disorder disrupts your body’s ability to
defend itself against these antigens.
Are the Different Types of Immunodeficiency Disorders?
Primary immunodeficiency disorders are immune disorders you
are born with. Primary disorders include:
- X-linked agammaglobulinemia (XLA)
- common variable immunodeficiency (CVID)
- severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), which
is known as “boy in a bubble” disease
Secondary disorders happen when an outside source, such as a
toxic chemical or infection, attacks your body. Severe burns and radiation also
can cause secondary disorders. Secondary disorders include:
- cancers of the immune system, such as leukemia
- immune-complex diseases, such as viral hepatitis
- multiple myeloma (a cancer of the plasma cells,
which produce antibodies)
Is at Risk for Immunodeficiency Disorders?
People who have a family history of primary disorders have a
higher-than-normal risk for developing primary disorders.
Anything that weakens your immune system can lead to a
secondary immunodeficiency disorder. For example, exposure to bodily fluids
infected with HIV can cause AIDS.
Removing the spleen can weaken your immune system. Spleen
removal may be necessary for a number of diseases or injuries, including
cirrhosis of the liver, sickle cell anemia, or trauma to the spleen. Aging also
weakens your immune system. As you age, some of the organs that produce white
blood cells shrink and produce fewer of them.
Proteins are important for your immunity. An insufficient
amount of protein in the diet can reduce the strength of your immune system. Your
body also produces proteins when you sleep that help your immune system fight
infection. For this reason, lack of sleep reduces your immune defenses.
Cancers and chemotherapy drugs can also reduce your
The following diseases and conditions are linked to
- Chediak-Higashi syndrome
- combined immunodeficiency disease
- complement deficiencies
- DiGeorge syndrome
- Job syndrome
- leukocyte adhesion defects
- Bruton’s disease
- congenital agammaglobulinemia
- selective deficiency of IgA
- Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome
of an Immunodeficiency Disorder
Each disorder has unique symptoms. One symptom of a weakened
immune system is frequent or chronic illnesses, including pinkeye, sinus
infections, colds, or diarrhea. If these problems don’t respond to treatment or
you don’t completely get better over time, your doctor might test you for an
immunodeficiency disorder. Recurrent pneumonia and yeast infections could also
suggest you have a disorder.
Are Immune Disorders Diagnosed?
If your doctor thinks you might have an immunodeficiency
disorder, they will want to do the following:
- ask you about your medical history
- perform a physical exam
- determine your T cell count
- determine your white blood cell count
Vaccines can test your immune system response in what is
called an antibody test. Your doctor will give you a vaccine and then test your
blood for its response to the vaccine a few days or weeks later. If you don’t
have an immunodeficiency disorder, your immune system will produce antibodies
to fight the organisms in the vaccine. You might have a disorder if your blood
test doesn’t show antibodies.
Are Immunodeficiency Disorders Treated?
The treatment for each immunodeficiency disorder will be
tailored to its specific conditions. For example, AIDS causes several different
infections. Your doctor will prescribe medications that are appropriate for
Treatment for immunodeficiency disorders commonly includes
antibiotics and antibody replacement. A drug called interferon is a common treatment
for the viral infections caused by a disorder.
If your bone marrow isn’t producing enough lymphocytes, your
doctor might order a bone marrow transplant.
Can Immunodeficiency Disorders Be Prevented?
Primary disorders can be controlled and treated, but they
cannot be prevented.
Secondary disorders can be prevented in a number of ways.
For example, it’s possible to prevent yourself from getting AIDS by not having
unprotected sex with someone who carries HIV.
Sleep is very important for a healthy immune system.
According to the Mayo
Clinic, adults need about eight hours of sleep per night. It’s important
that you stay away from people who are sick if your immune system isn’t working
If you have a contagious immunodeficiency disorder like
AIDS, you can keep others healthy by practicing safe sex and not sharing bodily
fluids with people who don’t have the condition.
Is the Outlook for Someone with an Immunodeficiency Disorder?
Most doctors agree that people with immunodeficiency
disorders can lead full and productive lives. Early identification and
treatment of the disorder and the problems it causes are very important.