There are many conditions that may cause the immune system to not work properly and create immunodeficiency or autoimmunity. Although some conditions are mild and have vague symptoms, many have common red-flag symptoms that must be addressed promptly.
Often the hallmark of either primary or secondary immune disorders is frequent infections. When the cause is a primary immunodeficiency, it is often detected in early childhood because it may cause significant problems with the development of infants and toddlers in addition to frequent illnesses. People with immunodeficiency may experience common illness at a seemingly abnormal rate. Additionally, common illnesses, such as a cold, sinus infections, or the seasonal flu leads to severe complications. For example, it is uncommon for a cold to progress to pneumonia, but when a person is immuno-compromised, it may happen quickly and frequently. Yeast infections are often frequent and difficult to treat in people with a compromised immune system. This can include yeast infections of the skin that may be found in skin folds.
Although frequent infections are often associated with immunodeficiency, some people are simply more prone to colds or yeast infections even if they are otherwise healthy. Uncommon infections are especially troubling and are a red-flag for immune system dysfunction. For example, thrush, which is a yeast infection affecting the oral mucosa, is commonly seen in infants, but highly unusual in older children and adults. This may be indicative of another condition that is affecting the immune system, such as diabetes or HIV. Systemic infections resulting from parasites, fungi, and certain bacteria can also be highly suspicious for immune system dysfunctions because a well-functioning immune system typically keeps these pathogens at bay.
Blood Test Abnormalities
Some problems with the immune system are caught haphazardly with routine blood work or after a person starts experiencing symptoms and doctors are trying to pinpoint a diagnosis. A complete blood count (CBC) is the standard test used to gauge whether there are normal levels of different types of blood cells. There will always be slight variations based on each person, if they are experiencing an illness, or even from day to day. Significant changes, either high or low, in the number of various blood cells can be indicative of changes in immune system function, organ function, or be an indicator of cancer. For example, the number of red blood cells, their shape, size, color, and amount of hemoglobin, may indicate problems with the spleen, which is a major component of the immune system. Abnormally high white blood cells may be associated with leukemia, or high counts of specific types of white blood cells, lymphocytes, may be indicative of lymphoma that has spread from the lymphatic system to the bone marrow.
A healthy immune system is essential to prevent everyday microbes from turning into life-threatening infections. Addressing unusual symptoms quickly translates into fewer catastrophic outcomes.