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  5. Immunodeficiency Disorders: Are You At Risk?

By now, you know the importance of your immune system, thanks to the pandemic. But, did you know that immunodeficiency disorders can weaken your immunity, making you vulnerable to viruses, cancers and AIDS? The worst part is that you could be born with an immunodeficiency disorder, if it is hereditary in your family!

So how do you know if you're in the risk zone? And if you are, how can you deal with an immunodeficiency disorder? Let’s delve into all the details in this article.

What Is An Immunodeficiency Disorder?

When your body’s immune system doesn’t produce enough white blood cells to fight any external threat, you become prone to catching infections easily. An immunodeficiency disorder [1] makes you vulnerable to catching viral and bacterial infections. It also weakens your body and doesn’t allow it to fight these diseases. Immunodeficiency disorders can be genetic in nature too, or may have been picked up in life, due to various reasons.

What Are The Different Types Of Immunodeficiency Disorders?

Immunodeficiency disorders can be of different types. In fact, there are over 100 known and recorded primary immunodeficiency disorders. They can basically be classified into two categories:

1. Primary

The immunodeficiency disorder you have since birth or due to hereditary reasons is known as a primary immunodeficiency disorder. Some of them are common variable immunodeficiency or CVID[2], X-linked agammaglobulinemia or XLA[3]. Then, there’s the severe combined immunodeficiency disorder or SCID[4], also referred to as the boy in a bubble disease or alymphocytosis. Other types include complement deficiency[5], DiGeorge syndrome[6], Ataxia-telangiectasia[7], Chediak-Higashi syndrome[8], Hypogammaglobulinemia[9], Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome[10] etc.

2. Secondary

When an external factor or a toxic element infects or attacks your body, it can lead to a secondary immunodeficiency disorder. Some of these external sources include malnutrition, chemotherapy drugs, diabetes, radiation and even extreme burns. AIDS, cancers such as leukaemia or cancer of the immune system, viral hepatitis or cancer of the antibody producing plasma cells (known as multiple myeloma) are classified as secondary immunodeficiency disorders.

Symptoms Of Immunodeficiency Disorders

The symptoms associated with each immunodeficiency disorder can be chronic. They may also occur frequently or may be unique to that disorder. These include yeast infections, colds, pink eye, pneumonia, diarrhoea and sinus infections.

When your body doesn’t heal from these even with medication, your doctor may prescribe a test for an immunodeficiency disorder.

How Are Immune Disorders Diagnosed?

To diagnose whether you have an immunodeficiency disorder, the doctor will examine you physically. A blood test will also be done to check the numbers of your white blood cells, T cells, and your immunoglobulin levels. The doctor will also ask about you and your family’s medical history.

Your doctor may also give you a vaccine for an antibody test. In this, you will undergo a blood test to check your body’s response to the vaccine a few days or weeks after the vaccine has been administered. If your blood test shows no antibodies, it may indicate that you have an immunodeficiency disorder. If your body produces antibodies that fight the vaccine, it means you don’t have a disorder and your immune system is working well.

What Causes Immunodeficiency Disorders?

The immune system is made up of tonsils, lymph nodes, bone marrow, thymus, some parts of the gastrointestinal system and spleen. The cells and proteins present in the blood also form a part of this system, which is known as lymphoid tissues. The spleen, lymph nodes, bone marrow and tonsils are responsible for producing and releasing lymphocytes or the white blood cells.

Labelled as B cells and T cells, their function is to fight antigens or invasive elements. Your immune system protects your body from invasive antigens like cancer cells, toxins, bacteria and viruses, along with tissue or blood from different people or other species.

In a normal healthy body, the immune system recognises the presence of invasive antigens in the body. The B cells then produce antibodies, to get rid of these antigens. A process known as phagocytosis takes place where the T cells eat up and get rid of the foreign body or bacteria. Certain proteins help in this process.

In some cases, a part of the lymphoid tissues that makes up the immune system can get affected. So, when the B or T cells are abnormal or your body cannot produce the required quantities of antibodies to fight the infection, your immune system becomes compromised, leading to the disorder. Your body is unable to defend against antigens such as parasites, viruses, bacteria and cancer cells.

How To Treat An Immunodeficiency Disorder?

Usually, antibiotics and immunoglobulin therapy[11] is prescribed for the treatment of immunodeficiency disorders. Treatment however varies, depending on the conditions specific to each disorder.

For example, to treat viral infections caused by immunodeficiency disorder, antiviral drugs are prescribed. Some of these drugs are interferon or amantadine or acyclovir.

AIDS, an immunodeficiency disorder, can cause various infections. The medication prescribed will address each condition along with an antiretroviral for the HIV virus if required.

In some cases, when your bone marrow doesn’t produce the required number of lymphocytes, a stem cell or bone marrow transplant may be suggested by the doctor.

Who Is At Risk For Immunodeficiency Disorders?

To check whether you are at risk of having immunodeficiency disorder, consider the following:

1. Genetics:

If primary immunodeficiency disorders are hereditary in your family, you have a higher risk of having a primary disorder.

2. Sickle cell anaemia:

External factors can weaken your immune system and lead to an immunodeficiency disorder. So, if you have sickle cell anaemia or cirrhosis of the liver which requires removal of the spleen, it can put you at risk.

3. Spleen removal:

Removal of the spleen due to trauma or contact with bodily fluids of someone with AIDS can also cause a secondary immunodeficiency disorder.

4. Age:

As you age, the risk of your immune system weakening is higher. This is because the new cell growth will be decreased and the organs producing white blood cells start to shrink, leading to reduced production of the disease fighting cells.

5. Diet:

Proteins are important for immunity, and a low protein diet can put you at risk of getting an immunodeficiency disorder due to a weakened immune system.

6. Stress:

If you are under severe stress and not sleeping well, it puts you at risk, because less or poor quality sleep lowers immunity. That is because the body generates proteins, which help the B and T cells fight diseases while you sleep.

How Can You Prevent Immunodeficiency Disorder?

If you are born with an immunodeficiency disorder, it cannot be prevented. These can be treated and symptoms kept under control at best.

For secondary immunodeficiency disorders, there are several ways to prevent them. To prevent AIDS, it is vital to have safe sex by using protection, especially if the person has HIV or if one has sexual intercourse with multiple partners.

Other practices you can follow to prevent acquiring an immunodeficiency disorder is by following a high micro and macro nutrients diet and ensuring you get at least 7-8 hours of sleep every night.

If you have low immunity, you need to keep a distance from others who may be sick, as you are likely to catch an infection easily.

Wrapping up:

Various factors ranging from heredity to spleen removal can cause immunodeficiency disorders. When your body lacks the ability to fight infections, several ailments can affect you. However, a simple consultation with your doctor can go a long way in helping you diagnose your condition and treat it in the best way possible.

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