How Do I Know If My Immune System Is Weak?

Reviewed on 4/26/2022
Illustration of a person's lungs infected by a virus
Signs your immune system may be weak include high stress levels, frequent colds, frequent diarrhea/gas/constipation, slow healing wounds, frequent infections, and feeling tired all the time.

The immune system is the body’s defense against infections and other harmful invaders such as viruses, bacteria, fungi, and other toxins. The immune system is made up of special cells, tissues, organs, and proteins (antibodies) that work together to protect you.

The two main parts of the immune system that work together are:

  • Innate: that which you are born with, such as skin and mucus membranes
  • Adaptive: that which develops when the body is exposed to microbes or chemicals released by microbes, such as antibodies

Immunocompromised and immunosuppressed both refer to deficiencies in the immune system’s functioning. When one’s immune system does not work properly, the body’s ability to fight off infections or cancer is weakened. 

Signs your immune system may be weak include: 

  • High stress levels
    • Chronic stress weakens the immune system because it lowers levels of certain white blood cells called lymphocytes, which help fight infection
    • Lower lymphocyte levels increase the risk of catching viruses, such as the common cold
  • Frequent colds
    • Two to three colds per year is normal for adults, and most people recover from a cold within a week to 10 days
    • But if you frequently catch colds, or get colds that don’t go away in a normal amount of time, it means your immune system can’t keep up
  • Frequent diarrhea, gas, or constipation
    • About 70% of the immune system is located in the digestive tract where beneficial bacteria and microorganisms live and help defend the gut from infection
    • Reduced amounts of good gut bacteria can put people at risk for viruses, chronic inflammation, and autoimmune disorders
  • Slow healing wounds
    • The skin’s healing process depends on healthy immune cells, so a weakened immune system inhibits the skin’s ability to regenerate and wounds don’t heal as easily as they should 
  • Frequent infections
    • According to The American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology, signs of a possible immune deficiency in adults include: 
      • More than four ear infections in one year
      • Developing pneumonia twice during a one-year period
      • Chronic sinusitis or more than three episodes of bacterial sinusitis in a year
      • Needing more than two courses of antibiotics a year
  • Feeling tired all the time
    • Energy levels wane if the immune system is not functioning as it should

What Causes a Weakened Immune System?

Secondary immune deficiency is the most common cause of a weakened immune system (immunosuppression). Secondary causes of immunosuppression refer to external factors that weaken a person’s immune system, such as:

Primary immune deficiencies are caused by genetic disorders, such as:

  • Down’s syndrome (trisomy 21)
  • Severe combined immune deficiency (SCID)
  • Common variable immune deficiency (CVID)
  • X-linked agammaglobulinemia

What Is the Treatment for a Weakened Immune System?

Treatment for a weakened immune system depends on the cause. 

Lifestyle changes that can help boost the immune system include: 

If an infection is causing a weakened immune system, it may be treated with:

  • Antibiotics
  • Antivirals
  • Antifungals

Medical treatments for a weakened immune system that are aimed at boosting the immune system include:

Other treatments for immunocompromised/immunosuppressed patients include:

  • Hematopoietic cell transplant
  • Gene therapy
  • Enzyme replacement therapy
  • Biologics
Reviewed on 4/26/2022
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