What are immune deficiency conditions?

The immune system is composed of multiple types of cells, tissues, organs and proteins. The primary function of the immune system is to distinguish between self and non-self (foreign). When something that is non-self, or foreign, is encountered, the immune system attacks it to help prevent infection or other injury. Immune deficiency conditions occur when the immune system is unable to do its job.

Immune deficiency conditions can be present at birth as a result of genetic defects in any of the components of the immune system. Such conditions are called primary immune deficiencies. Immune deficiencies can also be acquired as a result of infections, cancer treatments, or medications. There are more than 150 types of primary immune deficiencies, affecting approximately 500,000 people in the United States (Source: NIAID).

Recurrent infections in infancy and childhood may be the first indication of a primary immune deficiency. Although reducing exposure to infectious agents and treating infections are important in managing immune deficiency conditions, several primary immune deficiencies can now be treated through replacement of defective immune system components. As a result of advances in treatment, children with potentially fatal primary immune deficiencies are now living into adulthood.

Seek prompt medical care if you, or someone you are with, develop frequent infections, have persistent infections, or develop abscesses. You should also seek prompt medical care if you have an immune deficiency condition and sustain an injury or are exposed to an infectious disease.

Infections that develop in those with immune deficiency conditions can be severe or even life threatening. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, develop serious symptoms, such as high fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit), severe difficulty breathing, rapid heart or respiratory rate, chest pain, change in level of consciousness or mental status, severe diarrhea, seizures, weak pulse, decreased urine output, or bluish coloration of the lips or fingernails.

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of immune deficiency conditions?

Immune deficiency conditions weaken the body’s ability to fight off infection. Symptoms include frequent infections, severe infections, infections that don’t respond to treatment, and recurrent infections. Repeated infections in children can interfere with nutrition, leading to failure to gain weight, weight loss, slow growth, and slow development. Chronic sinusitis and bronchitis are also commonly associated with immune deficiency conditions.... Read more about immune deficiency conditionssymptoms

CAUSES

What causes immune deficiency conditions?

Many immune deficiency conditions are genetic. Some can be traced to a single gene, while others result from multiple abnormal genes. Genetic immune deficiency conditions are called primary immune deficiencies.... Read more about immune deficiency conditionscauses

TREATMENTS

How are immune deficiency conditions treated?

Treating existing infections and reducing exposure to other infections are important steps in managing immune deficiency conditions. Several primary immune deficiencies can be treated with replacement of defective immune system components. Treatment of acquired immune deficiencies varies depending upon the underlying cause of immune deficiency.... Read more about immune deficiency conditionstreatments

Medical Reviewer: All content has been reviewed by board-certified physicians under the direction of Rich Klasco, M.D., FACEP. Last Annual Review Date: May 2, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Allergies and the Immune System