What Does the Term Immunosuppressed Mean?

The term "immunosuppressed" refers to a weakened immune system. When this occurs, the human body's defense cells and substances aren't enough to control external agents, and the immunosuppressed person is much more susceptible to infections.
What Does the Term Immunosuppressed Mean?

Last update: 17 June, 2021

Currently, everyone’s talking about the term “immunosuppressed” because of the coronavirus pandemic that’s taking place around the world. The synonym “immunodeficient” is also often used for the same purpose. These people are at risk because they’re more vulnerable than others to COVID-19 disease.

To term “immunosuppressed” refers to a weakened immune system. Our immune system consists of a complex set of mechanisms that allow us to defend ourselves against any infection or aggression.

Some numerous factors and situations can influence the quality of this system. For example, certain diseases, such as diabetes. Even a situation of prolonged stress.

In this article, we’ll explain everything you need to know about the term “immunosuppressed”.

Why might someone be immunosuppressed?

As we’ve already mentioned, when someone’s immunosuppressed their immune system doesn’t have sufficient capacity to fight disease or infection. These people are much more susceptible to microorganisms that are present in the environment and that can invade the body.

Any healthy person can fight these microorganisms and not suffer from an infection. However, an immunosuppressed person’s unable to fight off attacks in the same way.

It’s important to note that an immunosuppressed person doesn’t express any symptoms. The symptoms or health problems result from the infections that occur as a consequence of this weakness.

In general, there are two types of immunosuppression: Congenital and acquired. Acquired immunosuppression is much more frequent and is usually secondary to medical treatments, such as chemotherapy or organ transplants. Congenital immunosuppression is the result of a DNA mutation that affects the functioning of the immune system.

A person sneezing into a tissue.
Immunosuppression is a weakness of the immune system in the face of external infectious threats.

Causes of immunosuppression

First of all, in the case of congenital immunosuppression, the cause is a defect in the genes. This type is usually expressed from infancy. These are children who have recurrent infections, such as bronchitis or colds.

Acquired immunosuppression is more common. A well-known cause is acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). It’s the last stage of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. Other causes are:

  • Any type of cancer.
  • Malnutrition.
  • Diabetes.
  • Medical treatments: This group includes relatively frequently used drugs, such as corticosteroids -at high doses-, as well as radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

How do you know if you are immunosuppressed?

To know if someone suffers from immunosuppression, the first thing to do is to review their entire medical history. The first sign of alarm is that infections occur very frequently and repeatedly. It’s also important to check if there’s a family history of this.

In addition, many tests give us guidance on the state of a person’s immune system. In a blood test, doctors should check the number of leukocytes. These are the so-called white blood cells which, in turn, comprise different cellular subtypes.

It’s essential to count all cell types, as each has a different function. Doctors will also measure blood antibody levels. Immunosuppressed individuals often have altered parameters, so they’re a reliable source of information.

A doctor checking on an immunosuppressed patient.
Patients with immunosuppression must follow certain special protocols to take the utmost care of their health.

You may be interested in: The Symptoms of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

What’s important to remember about the term “immunosuppressed”?

The most important thing to know is that an immunosuppressed patient is much more vulnerable to any disease. Therefore, the main measure to follow is the prevention of infections.

General hygiene measures are essential. Currently, in the case of coronavirus, it’s also crucial to respect confinement and to stay as far away as possible from other people who can transmit SARS-CoV-2.

Other recommended measures are vaccination and dietary care. Ideally, don’t eat raw or undercooked food because it’s a major source of infection. As for vaccination, it’s advisable to apply the doses that your national health office recommends.

However, it all depends on the type of immunosuppression and its cause. Therefore, it should be a physician who monitors the situation and advises the person in question on an individual basis.

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