Immune system is the defense mechanism of the body against several diseases and infections. Naturally, a malfunctioning immune system accounts for a long list of immune system disorders.
The immune system is the body’s strongest and most efficient mechanism of self-defense, against all sorts of parasites. As soon as the immune system encounters foreign bodies, it gears itself for action and destroys them completely. There are several harmful bacteria, viruses, and other foreign bodies which have the potential of inducing lethal infections in human body. Our immune system produces special antibodies for each of these micro-organisms. Thus, had it not been for our immune system, we would have all been victims of some infection or the other. However, an ill-functioning immune system can play havoc in the body by causing a plethora of diseases and disorders.
Diseases and disorders of the immune system are categorized depending upon the activity of the immune system. An overactive immune system has as much potential for inducing health hazards as an under active immune system. The following is a list of immune system disorders, depending upon the activity of the immune system.
Under Active Immune System
- Immune Deficiency Conditions
- SCID (Severe Combined Immunodeficiency)
Overactive Immune System
- Allergies (caused by either food, drugs, insect stings, or a particular substance)
- Autoimmune Diseases
Other Immune System Disorders
- Chédiak-Higashi Syndrome
- Common Variable Immunodeficiency
- Hay Fever
- HTLV (Human T-Lymphotropic Virus Type I)
- Hyper-IgE Syndrome (Hyperimmunoglobulin E Syndrome)
- Hyper-IgM Syndrome (Hyper Immunoglobulin M Syndrome)
- Primary Immune Deficiency
- Selective IgA Deficiency (Selective Immunoglobulin A Deficiency)
- Skin Allergies
- XLA (X-Linked Agammaglobulinemia)
Immune Deficiency Conditions: This is the largest group of immune system diseases that comprises a variety of diseases that suppress the immune system. Often, the cause of immune deficiency conditions is an underlying chronic illness. The symptoms for immune deficiency conditions are the same as that of the underlying disease.
SCID: SCID is an immune system disorder which is hereditary. The cause of SCID is a series of genetic abnormalities, particularly of the X chromosome. Several types of recurrent infections are common in people suffering from SCID. Besides this, they are also prone to contract meningitis, pneumonia, measles, chickenpox, oral candida, cold sores, blood disorders, etc. The immune system diseases in children suffering from SCID, become evident in the first 3 months of birth.
AIDS: HIV/AIDS is a serious immune system failure and a leading cause of death worldwide. AIDS occurs in the later stages of progression of HIV, and causes the immune system of the body to collapse completely, after deteriorating slowly. AIDS is considered as a life-threatening, sexually transmitted disease, where it can be transmitted through physical contact, blood transfusion, sharing of needles, and the like. Chances of survival in AIDS patients are negligible, if diagnosed in later stages. The immune system related symptoms for AIDS range from the common cold and flu, to serious ones like pneumonia and cancer.
Allergies: Allergies can be defined as an aggravated immune system response to a normally harmless substance. There are a myriad allergens such as pollen grains, mold spores, latex rubber, and certain food items like peanuts or drugs like penicillin which can cause allergies. In many cases, there is more than one allergen responsible for inducing an allergic reaction. While allergy symptoms are often a mild consequence, medical intervention is advised to diagnose the underlying problem.
Anaphylaxis: Anaphylaxis is a serious and extreme form of allergies. In this condition, the allergen such as food, medication, or an insect bite, acts as a trigger and causes a series of physical discomforting symptoms in a person. Itchy rashes, a swollen throat, and a drop in blood pressure, are some of the common symptoms of anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis may lead to an emergency situation if not diagnosed and treated on time.
Asthma: Asthma, a chronic lung disorder, is caused due to an inflammation of the air passage. Allergens, irritants or even stimulants such as physical activity can trigger the inflammation and induce variety of discomforts in a person. The symptoms of asthma include wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, etc.
Autoimmune Diseases: Autoimmune diseases are a group of immune system disorders, where the cells of the immune system misinterpret signals, and begin attacking its own body’s cells. Autoimmune diseases cause serious health hazards to an individual. Autoimmune diseases can be considered as an altogether different category of immune disorders.
Chédiak-Higashi Syndrome: Chédiak-Higashi syndrome is a rare autosomal recessive disorder caused by a mutation in the LYST (Lysosomal Trafficking Regulator) gene. This syndrome affects all the major organs of the body, and halts their functioning. It damages the cells of the immune system and renders them ineffective against micro-organisms and other invaders. Those suffering from this go through recurrent infections. A bone marrow transplant is the most effective and successful treatment option for patients, with severe Chédiak-Higashi syndrome. Alternatively, vitamins are prescribed to help boost the immune system, if the condition isn’t severe.
Common Variable Immunodeficiency: Common variable immunodeficiency syndrome is when there is a low count of antibodies in the body. This disorder is found mostly in adults. It may be present at the time of birth, where the symptoms do not surface until one enters their twenties. Symptoms include bacterial infections of the ears, sinuses, bronchi, and lungs. Painful swollen joints in the knee, ankle, elbow or wrist are also common symptoms. Some patients may report enlarged lymph nodes or the spleen.
Hay Fever: Hay fever is pretty similar to allergies, and is caused by airborne particulate like pollen, mold spores, or even animal dander. It is also called allergic rhinitis and affects over 35 million people in the US alone. The symptoms include, runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing etc., which are pretty similar to a cold. The symptoms remain for as long as you are in contact with the allergen.
Hives: Hives is the skin’s outbreak response to an allergen. The allergen in this case is either food or contact with a certain plant. Wheals develop on the surface of the skin, as a reaction to the allergen. These wheals are often itchy and rounded, or flat topped. Apart from the itchy elevated skin, the other symptoms for hives include the swelling of the lips, tongue, and face.
HTLV: Human T-cell lymphotropic viruses (retroviruses) and HTLV-II, seriously affect the human immune system. They are most prevalent among drug users and people with multiple sex partners. People with genital ulcers and a history of syphilis are also prone to HTLV. The mode of transmission of HTLV is through sexual contact, blood transfusion, or during pregnancy.
Hyper-IgE Syndrome: Hyperimmunoglobulin E syndrome or Job syndrome is a group of a variety of immune disorders. This condition is characterized by a recurrent staphylococcus infection accompanied by skin rashes similar to eczema. It is a genetic disorder, where it can be dominant or recessive when passed on. People with dominant hyper IgE syndrome are unable to lose their primary teeth and thus have two sets of these.
Hyper-IgM Syndrome: Hyper IgM is a rare immunodeficiency disease. In this condition, the immune system fails to generate two types of antibodies, IgA and IgG. The cause of this disease is a defective gene in T-cells. Due to this defect, B cells do not get the signal to produce IgA and IgG antibodies, and thus, continue producing IgM antibodies.
Primary Immune Deficiency: Primary immunodeficiency diseases are a group of immune system diseases caused by genetic abnormalities. In this case, people are born with a faulty immune system. The symptoms and effects are the same as that of AIDS, but unlike AIDS, the cause is not acquired.
Selective IgA Deficiency: This is a special immunodeficiency in which the immune system fails to generate antibodies of type IgA. These antibodies protect the body against infections of the mucous membranes lining the mouth and digestive tract. Obviously, in their absence, the body is exposed to several infections of the mucous membrane.
Skin Allergies: Skin allergies are similar to any other allergy, where only the immunological response is expressed through the skin. Skin allergies are again an aggravated response of the immune system to certain harmless substances. Skin allergies are characterized by red, itchy skin upon which lesions and wheals develop.
X-Linked Agammaglobulinemia: X-Linked Agammaglobulinemia is a genetic disorder in which the body’s ability to fight against infections is hampered. The immune system does not produce enough antibodies to combat infections. Naturally, the body falls prey to a plethora of infections.
The above list only takes some of the major immune disorders into consideration. Apart from these disorders, there are several genetic and acquired immunodeficiency diseases that affect millions of people all over the world. Since the immune system protects us from various infections and illnesses, special attempts are being made towards strengthening it.