The immune system is the best defence we have against novel viruses and bacteria. The immune system fights tirelessly to keep us safe from foreign invaders. After almost all battles, the immune system comes out stronger than before to keep us healthy. It keeps tabs on all foreign particles and strategizes to destroy them. The immune system also creates a memory of prior attacks so to disseminate a threat that may rise again.
There are two ways through which the foreign particle slips through the immune system. One, the particle is new, so the immune system does not recognize it. Two, the immune system is weak due to which it cannot fight the foreign particle.
While invaders are always a threat to the immune system, a weak immune system is much more prone to infections and diseases. There are multiple signs that a weak immune system has. One of which is living with an underlying condition.
Let’s take a look at some such conditions which can weaken the immune system.
HIV, also known as AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome), has become a global health problem. It is one of the top diseases that weaken the immune system. AIDS is caused by a virus called Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).
The symptoms of AIDS include recurring fever, unexplained weight loss, prolonged swelling of the lymph glands, and tiredness. As the disease progresses, it causes the immune system to become weakened.
HIV enters the human body by infecting the body’s CD4 cells in the vagina or rectum. CD4 cells are an essential component of the immune system. They are a communication bridge that alerts the immune system about the entry of the virus.
However, HIV takes hold of the cellular machinery of CD4 cells due to which they are no longer able to carry out the required communication.
Hence, the immune system is not informed of the presence of HIV. Once HIV has taken full control over the CD4 cells, the virus uses it to reproduce and make thousands of copies of HIV. With time, the number of HIV inside the body increases.
If HIV treatment is not started, and the infected person does not opt for a healthy lifestyle, things can take a turn for the worse. If strong intervention is not made, the body’s natural defences weaken over time, and they are prone to diseases and infections.
No one dies of HIV/AIDS. They die due to a weakened immune system, which is incapable of something as manageable as flu!
People with diabetes tend to develop a weak immune system - be it type-1, type-2 or gestational diabetes. High glucose levels don’t only contribute to extreme thirst and fatigue but also hinder the functioning of a network of immune cells called polymorphonuclear cells. This group of cells is the first one to combat and helps generate an immune response when an invader enters the body.
Halting the function of these cells means that your immediate defence is not going to work now, which makes it easy for a foreign particle to enter and attack the body.
However, if a person with diabetes can control the spikes and crashes in the glucose levels, then yes, they can keep their immune system healthy.
Cancer is the rapid multiplication and spread of abnormal cells. One conventional treatment for most cancer cases is chemotherapy. Chemotherapy makes use of drugs that kill fast-growing cancer cells. Unfortunately, chemotherapy affects the immune system, as well. This makes cancer among the group of diseases that weaken the immune system.
Have you ever seen cancer patients losing their hair? This is a side effect of chemotherapy. The side-effect is not limited to the hair cells alone.
Most of the immune cells are also put into jeopardy while a cancer patient is on chemotherapy. The rapidly dividing cells of cancer enter the bone marrow- the organ in which immune cells are produced. In the process of killing these cancer cells, chemotherapy damages the bone marrow as well.
As a result, bone marrow is unable to produce enough white blood cells required for fighting the infections. Hence, chemotherapy becomes the cause of a weakened immune system.
Obesity, which is characterized by excessive fats in adipose tissues of the body, is a complex disease that weakens the immune system.
Research suggests that since 1975, the incidence of obesity has tripled worldwide. Presently, 13% of adults are living with obesity without knowing what it can do to their immune systems.
Though scientists have established that obesity can be a cause of a weakened immune system, the exact explanation is still unknown. One way of its manifestation is that when adipose tissues become accumulated with layers of fat, they halt the function of immune cells residing in the tissues.
It primarily affects macrophages and natural killer cells involved in killing the invaders and eliminating their remains from the body. And so the consequence is simple - a weakened immune system.
If you have any of these conditions, know that your immune system is at risk. Controlling your diseases, following the advice of your healthcare professional and taking regular medications can help you manage your diseases effectively. Managing the disease will diminish the causes of weakened immune systems, thus letting you improve the quality of life.
Healthline. How Does HIV Affect the Body?
Breast cancer Org. 2014. How Chemotherapy Affects the Immune System
NIH. 2015. What Is Cancer?
Cancer Research UK. 2017. The immune system and cancer
Oxford Academic. 1999. Immune dysfunction in patients with diabetes mellitus (DM)