Understanding Immunodeficiency Disorders: The Basics
Author: Michaela Wachal, Clinical Pharmacist
Understanding immunodeficiency disorders can be a challenge. It’s overwhelming to go through an abundance of highly technical information to get a grasp on the fundamentals. At Hy-Vee Pharmacy Solutions (HPS), we want to make life simple for people living with complex health conditions. If you or a loved one has a condition that affects your immune system, here is the basic information you need to build a strong understanding of immunodeficiency disorders.
Understanding Immunodeficiency Disorders
The immune system is your body’s defense against germs. This complex system is made up of cells, proteins, tissues and organs working together to protect your body. Your bone marrow, your liver and your tonsils are just a few of the important organs that support your immune system. When part of your immune system is missing or is not working properly, you may be diagnosed with an immunodeficiency disorder.
Immunodeficiency disorders interrupt your body’s ability to defend itself from bacteria, viruses and other infectious diseases. That means people with immunodeficiency disorders can get sick easily. There are two main categories of immunodeficiency disorders: primary immunodeficiency and secondary immunodeficiency. Within each of these categories, there are hundreds of specific immunodeficiency diagnoses.
Primary Immunodeficiency vs. Secondary Immunodeficiency
People born with genetic mutations that affect their immune system can be diagnosed with a primary immunodeficiency disorder. Primary immunodeficiency disorders are also called congenital immunodeficiency disorders. According to the Immune Deficiency Foundation (IDF), there are over 350 primary immunodeficiency diseases.
Secondary or acquired immunodeficiency disorders are more common. This type of immunodeficiency can be the result of certain medications, such as chemotherapy medications, or from another health condition. For example, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can progress into acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).
Treating Immunodeficiency Disorders
When treating immunodeficiency disorders, the focus is on preventing infections and treating infections when they occur. Protecting your overall health with vaccinations and healthy lifestyle choices can keep your immune system strong and prevent infections. You may be prescribed antibiotic medications and antiviral medications as needed. In some cases, your doctor may recommend a stem cell transplant.
Immunodeficiency disorder treatment may include replacing parts of your immune system with immunoglobulin replacement therapy (IRT). Immunoglobulin (IgG) is the part of blood plasma that contains germ-fighting antibodies. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology provides more information about IRT. IRT is administered intravenously with IVIg therapy or subcutaneously with SCIg therapy.
IVIg Therapy and SCIG Therapy
IvIg stands for intravenous immunoglobulin therapy. When your body isn’t making enough germ-fighting antibodies, IVIg therapy is a way to give your body the antibodies needed to fight infections. If you have a weakened immune system, IVIg helps your body fight infections.
SCIg stands for subcutaneous immunoglobulin therapy. Similar to IVIg, SCIg therapy helps strengthen your immune system so you can fight infections. SCIg is typically administered more often and in smaller doses than IVIg therapy. While IVIg therapy is administered directly into the vein, SCIg therapy is administered through an injection.
Your doctor will help you decide which method of administration will be the safest and best option for your therapy. Many people receive IVIg and SCIg treatments from the convenience and comfort of home with home infusion therapy. HPS will coordinate with your doctor and a reliable home health partner to help you manage your infusion therapy. If self-injections make you nervous, HPS offers resources to help you overcome your fear of needles and to help you administer your medication safely.
Medication Management for Immunodeficiency Disorders
Work closely with your pharmacists to manage all your medications, including over-the-counter medications and nutrition supplements. Your HPS pharmacist will check your complete medication profile to look for any potential drug interactions. It’s important for you to take your medications as prescribed in order to achieve the most successful outcomes. This means taking the right medications, on the right schedule and taking the full dose. If you don’t feel like taking your medications or if you have questions about medication side effects, talk to your pharmacist. Don’t make changes to your medication schedule without talking to your healthcare team.
If you have an immunodeficiency disorder, it’s important for you to stay in touch with your healthcare team. Infections can quickly become a serious health concern for people with a weakened immune system. Be sure to tell your doctor right away if you start to become sick. Don’t ignore your symptoms or self-diagnose your condition.
Managing Immunodeficiency Disorders with Hy-Vee Pharmacy Solutions
If you are living with an immunodeficiency disorder, it’s important to remember you are not alone. Many people find it helpful to join a support group. Hy-Vee Pharmacy Solutions (HPS) takes a whole-health approach to helping you manage immunodeficiency. This means our experienced team is here to help you manage your immunodeficiency disorder and live easier, healthier and happier.