Your immune system protects you from illness and infection. It is a complex network of cells and organs – including your skin and white blood cells – which work together as a first and second line of defence. Some parts of your immune system (including your skin and mucus membranes) try hard to keep infection out. But if a virus, parasite, or bacteria makes its way into your body, your immune system will fight back.
Although we are all born with an immune system, some people’s immune systems are weaker than others. What are the health risks of having a poor immune system?
Why your immune system could be weak
You could be born with an inefficient immune system, or it could be weakened during your life. If you are diagnosed with a poor immune system, the medical name is immunodeficiency disorder. Remember how many parts of your body make up the immune system and how complex it is? That’s why the term “immunodeficiency disorders” covers a number of symptoms, causes and health risks.
Whether you are born with an immunodeficiency disorder, inherit a genetic immune problem, or develop one, it will affect how your body can protect itself. Any immunodeficiency disorder weakens your body’s in-built ability to identify and fight off infection.
There are two kinds of immunodeficiency disorders. If a baby is born with a weakened immune system, this is called primary immunodeficiency disorder. Scientists currently know of more than 100 primary immunodeficiency disorders.
However if the immune system gets damaged or weakened later in life, it’s called acquired (or secondary) immunodeficiency disorder. Anything that damages the immune system can lead to acquired immunodeficiency disorder. Acquired immunodeficiency disorders – the kind you can develop during your life – are more common than the type some babies are born with.
What a poor immune system could mean for your health
We already know that the immune system has an important role in keeping us healthy. It identifies viruses, bacteria, and parasites and tries to stop them from entering our body. If the infection does manage to get through the immune system’s first line of defence, then other parts of the immune system fight to get rid of the illness and help you feel better faster.
Your immune system releases white blood cells (called B cells and T cells) to fight off invading antigens and destroy foreign cells. These unwanted invaders include viruses, bacteria, parasites, and cancer cells.
Any immunodeficiency disorder will affect how your body can protect you from infection and fight against disease. If you have a poor immune system, you will catch viral and bacterial infections more easily than someone with a healthy immune system.
This could affect your life in a number of ways, from the annoyance and inconvenience of regular colds and hay fever, to the serious health risks of some cancers. Some of the more serious health risks of a weak immune system include HIV and AIDS, viral hepatitis, cancers of the immune system (like leukaemia), or cancer of the plasma cells (called multiple myeloma).
Are you at risk of a weakened immune system?
We should all keep a close eye on our immune system health and support it by living a healthy and active lifestyle. Some people might be at greater risk of a damaged immune system. If you have a family history of primary immunodeficiency disorders, then your risk of having a primary disorders (or passing one on to your children) is higher.
Anything that threatens your immune system could potentially lead to secondary immunodeficiency disorder. Exposure to infection, especially through bodily fluids, is a big risk factor, and cancer drugs and chemotherapy can put your immunity at risk too. Our immune system can get weaker as we age, so it’s really important to stay healthy as you get older. Get plenty of good quality sleep, minimise stress, eat a diet high in fruit, vegetables, protein, and fibre, and stay fit and active.
Which parts of your immune system can get damaged?
Here are just are some parts of your immune system which could be damaged or weakened during your life:
– your skin
– your bone marrow
– your white blood cells
– your spleen
– your tonsils
– your lymph nodes
– your endocrine system (hormones)
It might be scary to think about having a weak immune system, but it’s an important topic to tackle. If you think your lifestyle, fitness, or nutrition put you at risk of secondary immunodeficiency disorder, start taking steps now to live a healthier lifestyle. The great news is that there is plenty you can do to give your immune system a helping hand.
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