The immune system helps defend your body against threats like diseases, viruses, bacteria, infections, and foreign substances, also known as antigens, which trigger an immune response.
When it encounters these antigens, it stores information and can later make antibodies to defend against these specific invaders.
But, an unhealthy immune system may have trouble fighting off threats.
If you’re immunocompromised, your immune system is less capable of producing antibodies and providing protection.
And in some cases, the immune system incorrectly recognizes the body’s own cells and tissues as antigens. When this happens, the body may produce an autoimmune response, attacking healthy cells in the body. This happens in the case of autoimmune disorders.
Below, we answer questions about the difference between people with autoimmune disorders and those who are immunocompromised.
Autoimmune disorders occur when your body’s immune response targets itself, attacking its own cells and tissues.
There are almost 100 recognized autoimmune disorders. And according to the National Institute of Health (NIH),
Examples of autoimmune disorders include:
When you have an autoimmune disease, your immune system may mistakenly attack healthy cells.
Autoimmune conditions don’t necessarily cause a weakened immune system, but some medications used to treat these disorders may cause a weakened immune response.
Being immunocompromised means that you have a weakened immune system that may have trouble protecting you from things like bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Certain diseases such as AIDS, cancer, and hepatitis may cause you to become immunocompromised.
Certain medications can lead to you becoming immunocompromised. For example, immunotherapy, steroids, radiation treatment for cancer, and organ rejection medications can all leave your immune system in a weakened state.
Medications that have this effect are known as “immunosuppressive” because while they help treat a condition, they also decrease your immune system’s abilities.
Some signs that you may be immunocompromised include:
Many factors can impact your immune system, including environmental factors and your behavior. Some things that can weaken your immune system include:
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Vaccines are designed to help prevent you from getting certain diseases or reduce your chance of experiencing serious complications. Common vaccines include:
If you’re immunocompromised, it’s a good idea to talk with a doctor to determine if a vaccine is safe for you. Things to consider include:
And while it may be safe to get a vaccine, having a weakened immune system could limit your immune response. As a result, some vaccines may be less effective for those who are immunocompromised.
Some things that may help you improve your immunity if you’re immunocompromised include:
Consult with a doctor to determine which steps you can safely take to potentially improve your immunity.
To help protect immunocompromised people, it’s important to be mindful of how your decisions can affect others. You may not always know who’s immunocompromised, but there are some basic things you can do to help reduce your chance of harming those who are:
If you have a weakened immune system, your doctor can help you determine the best steps to take to stay as healthy as possible. This may include getting vaccinated and forming healthy lifestyle habits.
People with healthy immune systems can help protect immunocompromised people by making choices that reduce the chances of passing on illnesses to others.
Last medically reviewed on July 26, 2022
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