Understanding Secondary Immunodeficiency Disorders

Author: Abby Cate, Clinical Pharmacist

Secondary Immunodeficiency

Your immune system is your body’s natural defense against germs, bacteria and viruses that can make you sick. It’s normal for your immune system to go through highs and lows. Your everyday sleep habits, stress levels and other lifestyle choices affect your body’s natural defense system. Sometimes when your immune system gets too low or it’s weak for an extended amount of time, your doctor may diagnose you with an immunodeficiency disorder.

Immunodeficiency disorders affect your body’s ability to fight bacteria, viruses and other infections. There are two main categories of immunodeficiency disorders: primary and secondary. Primary immunodeficiency disorders are the result of genetic abnormalities and are often diagnosed in infants and children. Secondary immunodeficiency disorders, also called acquired immunodeficiency disorders, develop later in life and are much more common. If your immune system is weak or damaged, it’s important to understand secondary immunodeficiency disorders.

Causes of Secondary Immunodeficiency Disorders

According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology, a secondary immune deficiency “occurs when the immune system is compromised due to an environmental factor.” Secondary immunodeficiency disorders can be caused by anything that weakens your immune system. Malnutrition, severe trauma or burns, chemotherapy and certain blood cancers are all examples of conditions that can compromise your immune system. Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a common example of a secondary immunodeficiency condition that develops from an HIV infection.

Medications and Secondary Immunodeficiency Disorders

In some cases, your doctor will prescribe a medication that weakens your immune system on purpose. Medications that are supposed to weaken or suppress your immune system are called immunosuppressant medications. These medications are common in transplant patients, for example, to help their body adjust to a new organ and avoid rejection. Some inflammatory conditions are also treated with immunosuppressant medications. Ask your pharmacist at Hy-Vee Pharmacy Solutions (HPS) if your medication could affect your immune system.

People at Risk of Developing a Compromised Immune System

Medications are not the only cause of secondary immunodeficiency disorders. Certain chronic conditions can weaken your immune system. If you are living with a chronic condition, such as diabetes, it’s important to manage your diagnosis well to avoid complications that can compromise your immune system. Ask your doctor if your chronic condition may increase the risk of developing a problem with your immune system. Older adults are more likely to develop a secondary immunodeficiency disorder. With age, your immune system naturally slows down. In addition to a weaker immune system, older adults are also more likely to have chronic conditions and take medications that impair immune system function.

Treating Secondary Immunodeficiency Disorders

Treatment for secondary immunodeficiency disorders depends on your specific diagnosis. Your doctor will help you develop a treatment plan based on the cause of your immune system impairment and the severity of it. If your immunodeficiency is caused by another condition or is the result of a treatment side effect, it will typically improve when the original cause is resolved. Treating the underlying cause is often the best way to treat your immunodeficiency and strengthen your immune system. With HIV infections, organ transplantation and other chronic conditions, treatment will focus on managing the condition and minimizing the related immunodeficiency.

An important part of managing secondary immunodeficiency disorders is treating the infections that occur when your immune system is weak. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics and other medications to help you recover from infections. Try to stay away from unwanted germs when you have a weak immune system. Washing your hands often, getting a good night of sleep and making healthy choices will help you avoid getting sick.

Preventing Secondary Immunodeficiency Disorders

In some cases, secondary immunodeficiency disorders can be prevented. Practicing good health habits can keep your immune system strong and help prevent immunodeficiency disorders. If you are at risk of developing compromised immune system, talk to your doctor about your diet, exercise and sleep routines. Never share needles and be sure to practice safe sex to protect yourself from HIV. If you are diabetic, work with your doctor to manage your blood sugar. When white blood cells are not functioning well you have a greater risk of infection.

Nutrition is an important part of preventing immunosuppressant disorders. Serious cases of malnutrition can weaken your immune system and lead to additional complications. Talk with your doctor or a registered dietitian about how you can get the nutrients you need to stay healthy, especially if you are on medications that suppress your immune system. HPS patients can schedule a personalized consultation with registered dietitian Megan Hall. You can also visit the registered dietitian at your local Hy-Vee store.

Managing Secondary Immunodeficiency Disorders with Hy-Vee Pharmacy Solutions

The pharmacists at Hy-Vee Pharmacy Solutions (HPS) will coordinate with your doctor and your entire healthcare team to help you live easier, healthier and happier while you manage a secondary immunodeficiency disorder. Clinical experts are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to answer your questions. You can also take advantage of our whole-health patient education and resources program for reliable information.