A weak immune system, or the medical term, immunodeficiency, are rare diseases caused by defects of the immune system. Early diagnosis of a weak immune system is important to reduce morbidity and mortality. A weak immune system is characterized by recurrent and/or severe infections, autoimmunity, cancer and allergic disorders. Diagnosing an immunodeficiency is difficult to do because of its rarity. The European Society of Immunodeficiency published 6 warning signs for a weakened immune system to help diagnose an immunodeficiency in patients. If a patient has these signs, they must undergo further evaluation and worked up for a possible immunodeficiency.
- Four or more infections requiring antibiotics within 1 year (otitis media, bronchitis, sinusitis, pneumonia).
- Recurring infections or infection requiring prolonged antibiotic therapy.
- Two or more severe bacterial infections (osteomyelitis, meningitis, septicemia, cellulitis).
- Two or more radiologically proven pneumonia within 3 years.
- Infection with unusual localization or unusual pathogen.
- Primary Immunodeficiency in the family
These warning signs are clinically useful but it does not capture all primary immunodeficiencies. The most common conditions diagnosed are CVID (Common Variable Immune Deficiency) CVID, Selective IgA deficiency and complement deficiency.
If your doctor suspects that you have an immunodeficiency or weak immune system, he or she may perform laboratory tests to help identify it. These would include a CBC (complete blood count), measurement of serum immunoglobulins (IgG, IgA, IgM and IgE), antibody titers and a host of other tests that could be done to better identify your condition. There are many “arms” of the immune system that could be checked depending on what type of infections you get.
Primary immunodeficiencies are devastating disorders that result from defects of the human immune system. Many people who have weak immune systems could be picked up if they meet one of the six criteria listed above. In adults, the largest problem is poor awareness because the diseases are generally childhood disorders. Many of these disorders are easily diagnosed and effective treatment options are available. If you feel that you have a weak immune system and fit the criteria above, speak to your doctor or see an immunologist to rule in or rule out any immune deficiency.