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What is an impaired immune system?

Dr. Robin Miller, MD
Internal Medicine
An impaired immune system is one that is not working optimally. Our immunity keeps us from getting infections and protects us from cancer. The range can be from slight impairment to major impairment. For example, when we get tired and stressed, our immunity may be down and we are more prone to getting a cold. There are some conditions where the impairment is great. Patients who are on chemotherapy, have HIV/AIDS, or have autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, have serious impairment. They are more prone to infections of all kinds than those with a healthy immune system.
The immune system is the body’s tool to fight infections and other foreign material that gets into our body. The skin, liver, spleen, kidneys, bloodstream and lymphatic system (a network of thin tubes that travel with blood vessels and contain white blood cells that attack bacteria, viruses and other foreign invaders like cancer cells) are most important in protecting our immunity to these foreign agents. Impairment of any of these organs (for example, liver failure, poor skin quality and predisposition to wounds/sores) will result in an impaired or weaker immune system. Poor nutrition and poor overall health status are significant contributors to a weakened immune system.

An impaired immune system may be present at birth (primary immunodeficiency) or acquired through disease (AIDS) or medication (steroids, chemotherapy or transplant medication to prevent rejection). The immune system can also turn against us (auto-immune diseases) and cause illnesses, such as rheumatoid arthritis, type I diabetes or lupus.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.