Immune System: Function, Diseases, Treatment & prevention

Immune System: Function, Diseases, Treatment & prevention
The different parts of the immune system play unique roles in protecting the body against infection.Getty Images

Immune System: Function, Diseases, Treatment & prevention

Immune System: Function, Diseases, Treatment & prevention.

The role of the immune system — a collection of structures and processes within the body — is to protect against disease or other potentially damaging foreign bodies.

When the immune system it functioning properly, the immune system identifies a variety of threats, including viruses, bacteria and parasites, and distinguishes them from the body’s own healthy tissue. Normally, the immune system can tell the difference between foreign cells and your own cells. the immune system mistakes part of your body — like your joints or skin — as foreign. It releases proteins called auto antibodies that attack healthy cells.

Your immune system includes the following organs:


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The largest lymphatic organ in the body, which is on your left side, under your ribs and above your stomach, contains white blood cells that fight infection or disease. The spleen also helps control the amount of blood in the body and disposes of old or damaged blood cells.


They function as a defense mechanism. They help prevent your body from infection. When thetonsils become infected, the condition is called tonsillitis.Tonsillitis can occur at any age and is a common childhood infection.

Bone Marrow

The yellow tissue in the center of the bones produces white blood cells. This spongy tissue inside some bones, such as the hip and thigh bones, contains immature cells, called stem cells, according to the NIH

Lymph Nodes

Small, bean-shaped structures that produce and store cells that fight infection and disease and are part of the lymphatic system— which consists of bone marrow, spleen, thymus and lymph nodes, according to “A Practical Guide To Clinical Medicine” from the University of California San Diego (UCSD). Lymph nodes also contain lymph, the clear fluid that carries those cells to different parts of the body. When the body is fighting infection, lymph nodes can become enlarged and feel sore.

Examples of antigens that your B and T cells might need to fight off include:

• Bacteria
• Viruses
• Cancer cells
• Parasites

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An immunodeficiency disorder disrupts your body’s ability to defend itself against these antigens.

Why does the immune system attack the body?

Doctors don’t know what causes the immune system misfire. Yet some people are more likely to get an autoimmune disease than others.

Women get autoimmune diseases at a rate of about 2 to 1 compared to men — 6.4 percent of women vs. 2.7 percent of men. Often the disease starts during a woman’s childbearing years (ages 14 to 44).

Some autoimmune diseases are more common in certain ethnic groups. For example, lupus affects more African-American and Hispanic people than Caucasians.

Certain autoimmune diseases, like multiple sclerosis and lupus, run in families. Not every family member will necessarily have the same disease, but they inherit a susceptibility to an autoimmune condition.

A “Western” diet is another suspected trigger. Eating high-fat, high-sugar, and highly processed foods is linked to inflammation, which might set off an immune response. However, this hasn’t been proven.

Another theory is called the hygiene hypothesis. Because of vaccines and antiseptics, children today aren’t exposed to as many germs as they were in the past. The lack of exposure could make their immune system overreact to harmless substances

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Diseases of the immune system

An immune disease occurs when the immune system is not working properly. If you are born with a deficiency or if there is a genetic cause, it is called primary immunodeficiency disease.

Examples of primary immunodeficiency disorders include:

• X-linked agammaglobulinemia (XLA).
• Common variable immunodeficiency (CVID).
• Severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), which is known as alymphocytosis or “boy in a bubble” disease.

Secondary immunodeficiency disorders happen when an outside source like a toxic chemical or infection attacks your body. The following can cause a secondary immunodeficiency disorder:

• Severe Burns
• Chemotherapy
• Radiation
• Diabetes
• Malnutrition

Examples of secondary immunodeficiency disorders include:

• Cancers of the immune system, like leukemia
• Immune-complex diseases, like viral hepatitis
• Multiple myeloma (cancer of the plasma cells, which produce antibodies)

Diagnosis and treatment of immune system diseases

If your doctor thinks you might have an immunodeficiency disorder, they will want to do the following:

• ask you about your medical history
• perform a physical exam
• determine your white blood cell count
• determine your T cell count
• determine your immunoglobulin levels

Vaccines can test your immune system response in what is called an antibody test. Your doctor will give you a vaccine.

Even though symptoms of immune diseases vary, fever and fatigue are common signs that the immune system is not functioning properly, according to Mayo Clinic.

Most of the time, immune deficiencies are diagnosed with blood tests that either measure the level of immune elements or their functional activity.

In overactive or autoimmune conditions, medications that reduce the immune response, such as corticosteroids or other immune suppressive agents, can be very helpful.

“In some immune deficiency conditions, the treatment may be replacement of missing or deficiency elements.” “This may be infusions of antibodies to fight infections.”

Treatment may also include monoclonal antibodies. A monoclonal antibody is a type of protein made in a lab that can bind to substances in the body. They can be used to regulate parts of the immune response that are causing inflammation.

How can immunodeficiency disorders be prevented?

Primary immunodeficiency disorders can be controlled and treated, but they can’t be prevented.

Secondary disorders can be prevented in a number of ways. For example, it’s possible to prevent yourself from getting AIDS by not having unprotected sex with someone who carries HIV.

Sleep is very important for a healthy immune system. According to the Mayo Clinic, adults need about eight hours of sleep per night. It’s also important that you stay away from people who are sick if your immune system isn’t working properly.

Additional resources for finding about Immune system:

UCSD: A Practical Guide to Clinical Medicine
Harvard Medical School: How to Boost Your Immune System