Immunodeficiency, immunodeficiency, and autoimmune disease are all terms used to describe the body’s immune system and its decreased ability or inability to fight off infection or disease. But the terms are not always interchangeable. Here’s what each means.
What are immunodeficiency diseases?
Immunodeficiency disorders are disorders of the immune system that can prevent a person’s body from defending itself against illness or infection.
It could mean that the body’s immune system is not making enough immune cells or antibodies to fight off foreign invaders, or that the body’s immune response is lacking.
As with many diseases, the immune deficiency can range from mild to severe. In mild cases, someone with immunodeficiency may not even notice, according to Elizabeth M. Younger, assistant professor of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Maryland. That’s because you can be asymptomatic with some of the milder forms.
There are two types of immunodeficiency diseases according to which British Immunology Society: primary and secondary. Primary immune deficiency diseases are those that are genetic or hereditary, while secondary immune deficiency diseases develop as a consequence of environmental factors and occur more frequently than primary immune deficiencies.
There are more than 400 types of primary immunodeficiency, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC.)). Symptoms of the more serious primary conditions, such as B. severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) occur according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, while the symptoms of the less serious illnesses may not appear until adulthood. For example, the median age of onset for Common Variable Immunodeficiency (CVID) is 24 years, according to a review published in 2014 Allergo Journal International.
Signs of primary immunodeficiency disease include:
- Frequent or recurring infections which may include sinus infections Ear infection, Bronchitis, lung infection, Skin infections, or candidiasis (a fungal infection caused by a type of yeast called candidate)
- Persistent infections
- Bacterial infections that don’t respond well Antibiotics
- Infections that require hospitalization, such as: sepsis
The treatments vary depending on the type of immunodeficiency disease and the specific infection.
The most common primary immune deficiency disease is selective IgA deficiency (SIgAD). Immunodeficiency Foundation. People with selective IgA deficiency lack immunoglobulin A or IgA, an antibody that Johns Hopkins Medicine says is found in the lining of the respiratory and digestive tract.
SIgAD is most common among people of European descent, according to the Cleveland Clinic. SIgAD can cause significant illness in some, but it doesn’t for many people with the disorder, Younger said. Some people don’t even notice any symptoms.
The vast majority of them have no idea that their IgA levels are very low or completely absent. “You’re walking around completely asymptomatically and it’s never a problem at all,” said Younger.
However, the deficiency increases a person’s susceptibility to infection, as does other primary immunodeficiency diseases.
Secondary immunodeficiency diseases are more common than primary immunodeficiency diseases, according to a review published in 2009 Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, and develop as a result of environmental factors. For example, secondary immunodeficiency diseases can be caused by HIV Infection; certain drugs, such as drugs to prevent rejection of transplanted organs; or treatment with chemotherapy. Malnutrition is the most common cause of immunodeficiency worldwide, as a lack of calories and micronutrients can alter the immune response.
Symptoms of secondary immunodeficiency disease include frequent infections and occasional opportunistic infections, which tend to be more common in people with compromised immune systems. For example, candidiasis is a fungal infection caused by the candidate Yeast. The yeast can live on your skin and in your body without causing any problems, but when you have a weakened immune system it can get out of control and cause infections, so those days CDC.
Diagnosis & Treatment
To diagnose an immunodeficiency, a doctor will likely do a physical exam, take a thorough medical history, and perform a variety of tests, according to the Merck Handbook. Tests may include blood tests, skin tests, lymph node or bone marrow biopsies, and sometimes genetic tests to identify a genetic mutation that could be causing the disease.
The type of treatment depends on the type of immune deficiency disease. Accordingly National Jewish HealthTreatment may include antimicrobial therapy for infections, vaccinations, or special therapies to replace or supplement cells of the immune system.
The prognosis for people with immunodeficiency diseases is also different. Many people with primary immunodeficiency require ongoing antibiotic and antifungal treatment to fight off infection. For some secondary immunodeficiency, treating the primary cause can effectively resolve the immunodeficiency, according to the British Immunology Society; one example is malnutrition.
Is Immune Deficiency the Same as Autoimmune Disease?
Immunodeficiency diseases and autoimmune diseases are not exactly the same thing. An immune deficiency is an impairment of the immune system while an autoimmune disease is when the immune system attacks healthy cells, tissues and organs in the body.
However, studies have shown that there is often a link between immune deficiencies and autoimmune diseases. “Patients with certain types of immune deficiency are prone to autoimmune diseases,” Younger said, adding that it is common for autoimmune disease to develop after an immune deficiency is diagnosed. “They absolutely go hand in hand,” she said.
People with primary immunodeficiency are more likely to have autoimmune disorders, certain blood disorders, and cancers, according to the study CDCbecause their immune systems just aren’t working as effectively to protect them from these health problems.
There are more than 80 recognized autoimmune diseases, including Type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease and Rheumatoid arthritis, noisy National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases. Medicines prescribed to treat autoimmune diseases typically work to suppress the immune system, to slow it down, or to prevent it from attacking the body, thereby increasing the risk of other infections. So there is some overlap: a person may be immunodeficient or immunocompromised as a result of treatment they are receiving for an autoimmune disease.
Is immunodeficiency the same as immunodeficiency?
Immunocompromised is a broad term used to describe someone with a weakened immune system. People with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of disease – because their immune systems have a harder time fighting off bacteria, viruses, and other invaders – than people with healthy immune systems.
People with immunodeficiency or autoimmune disorders are considered to be immunocompromised, but other factors can also lead to an immunodeficiency, such as cancer, cancer treatments, metabolic disorders or advanced age The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Transplant patients and smokers are also immunocompromised, like that Penn medicine.
Immunodeficiency and COVID-19
Anyone with an immunodeficiency may be at an increased risk of developing serious complications if they contract COVID-19, according to the CDC. People with cancer; chronic conditions such as chronic liver or lung diseases; or autoimmune diseases may also be at increased risk. Research supports this, as a study published in late 2020 in Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that adults with primary immunodeficiency and symptomatic secondary immunodeficiency had higher morbidity and mortality from COVID-19.
Anyone who is immunocompromised should get the COVID-19 vaccine, said Dr. Aaron E. Glatt, chairman of the medical division and chief of the infectious diseases division at Mount Sinai South Nassau and spokesman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America. But the vaccine is not a perfect solution. “We understand that people with immunodeficiency don’t respond as well to the vaccine, which is a big problem,” said Glatt.
Research from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine has shown that some groups of immunocompromised patients are unable to produce enough antibodies to protect them from COVID-19, and therefore have an increased risk of infection even after vaccination. This study was not peer-reviewed and is available on the preprint server MedRxiv.
People whose immune systems are weakened should be extra careful with protective measures, including social distancing and wearing masks, Glatt said.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice.