Find out more about being immunocompromised and how it relates to the gut.
What it Means to Be Immunocompromised
The immune system can typically fight off infections or abnormal cells with the help of antibodies and white blood cells. In some cases, the immune system doesn’t respond enough or even at all.
Immunocompromised or immunodeficient means the immune system doesn’t have the ability to resist infections. In other words, patients who are immunocompromised are more susceptible to infections and or more likely to experience complications after an infection.
Immunosuppression is a precursor for immunodeficiency. Deliberate immunosuppression therapy prevents the body from rejecting an organ transplant. It may also be useful for treating certain autoimmune diseases.
Primary immunodeficiency, also known as congenital immunodeficiency, is genetic. It includes several rare diseases.
Other factors like environment, infection, or nutrition causes secondary immunodeficiency.
Immunodeficiency is present to varying degrees. Some patients may struggle or take longer to recover from infections. For others, mild conditions, like a cold, may even be life-threatening.
Signs of Immunodeficiency
Frequent infection is usually the most significant indicator that the immune system is weak. Symptoms of immunodeficiency vary depending on the underlying cause. Some common signs and symptoms include:
- Yeast infections
- Sinus infections and colds
- Diarrhea and other digestive issues
- Conjunctivitis (pink eye)
Another sign of immunodeficiency may be the duration of infection. If patients don’t respond to standard treatment, it could indicate immunodeficiency.
Who is at Risk of Becoming Immunocompromised?
Immunodeficiency often affects various parts of the immune system. Factors that lead to immunocompromise include:
- Cancer and cancer treatments
- Chronic diseases like diabetes, alcoholism and kidney disease
- Common variable immunodeficiency (CVID)
- Lifestyle factors, such as malnutrition and age
- Family history of primary immunodeficiency
In general, most people experience low immunity at one stage or another, which can make them more vulnerable to pathogens.
The Connection Between Gut Health and Being Immunocompromised
The gastrointestinal tract (GIT) microbiome has many biological functions, including immune system development.
The gut microbiome recognizes harmful microorganisms and builds a tolerance to normal microorganisms. The immune system then ‘learns’ how to respond to pathogens through interaction with the microbiome.
The microbiome also serves as a first-line defense against pathogens. Firstly, good bacteria prevent harmful bacteria from attaching to the intestine walls. Secondly, beneficial bacteria release molecules to counteract pathogen colonization.
A recent study found a clear correlation between the microbiome and the risk of infectious diseases.
Researchers believe children under 5 in developed countries are not exposed to many microorganisms. As a result, the lack of immune activation early in childhood may reduce the immune system response later in life.
Reduced microbial diversity in infancy correlates with the development of allergies. According to researchers, good bacteria protects against airway inflammation and food allergies.
The same study found that probiotics can restore gut balance and reduce some side effects of infection and antibiotics.
Evidence from a 2016 study suggests that the microbiome contributes to the susceptibility and severity of Plasmodium infections (Malaria).
Mice with more diverse gut flora showed less vulnerability to infection and better immune response. Furthermore, infected mice had fewer parasites after the introduction of beneficial bacteria.
Another study found the antibiotic treatment of one infection may lead to another infection because of a disrupted microbiome. In other words, opportunistic pathogens exploit an unstable microbiome.
Significance of the Findings
Many infections originate in the gastrointestinal tract. Infections caused by intestinal bacteria are particularly difficult to treat. These infections could be life-threatening to immunocompromised patients.
These studies show the microbiome plays a critical role in infections. A disruption in the normal bacteria may lead to a higher risk of contracting infections.
A better understanding of the intestinal flora may also influence the future treatment of infection. By designing specific therapies linked to an individual’s microbiome, the rate of infection may be reduced.
It seems that long-term lifestyle changes that prevent infection are better than medical interventions after infection. There is still a lot to learn about the microbiome and its exact mechanisms. A better understanding may lead to improved treatments and reduced infections.
Are you concerned about being immunocompromised? Let us know in the comment section below!