What Causes a Weak Immune System?
To recognize the signs of a weak immune system, you must first understand what is happening behind the scenes. Inside the body, white blood cells are the key player in weak immune system causes. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) states that immune cells — or the white blood cells, specifically — circulate in your body, always on guard for any issues.
The job of white blood cells is to look for and find any foreign invaders and protect your body from disease. However, several illnesses change how white blood cells function. Chronic conditions, such as HIV, cancer and diabetes can have a profound effect on white blood cells. There are also autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, which weaken the immune system.
The immune system is also compromised by some medications. If you take corticosteroids to combat inflammation, for example, you are at a higher risk of illness, because corticosteroids negatively impact the immune system. There’s a wide range of medications that produce a similar effect on immunity.
What Are Signs of a Weak Immune System?
But how do you know if you have a weak immune system? It’s key to pay attention to the signs. Paying a little attention will tell you whether or not you may be immunocompromised. This term simply means that your immune system is weaker than it should be, leaving you vulnerable to illnesses and diseases.
You might also hear terms such as immunosuppressed or immunodeficient. Both terms signify that you are at a higher risk of becoming sick or getting an infection.
As you look for the signs you have a weak immune system, keep in mind there are different degrees of severity. A mildly immunocompromised person may be more at risk for catching a cold, whereas someone that is severely immunocompromised could catch a cold and it becomes life-threatening.
How do you know if your immune system is weak, so you can take precautionary steps to be healthier? It’s vital to analyze the symptoms you’re having.
The most common symptoms include a heightened stress level, digestive issues, slower healing times, recurring colds and drowsiness. If you are suffering from these symptoms, it may be time to consider getting an immune system blood test.
Elevated Stress Level
Everyone faces stress at some point in life. It’s inevitable. However, when stress starts to affect your physical health, especially your immune system, it can exacerbate your daily stress level — constantly catching a cold, a bug, or even coming down the flu every year. Have you ever come down with a cold shortly after finishing a challenging work project or after dealing with an emotional situation at home?
That’s not a coincidence. In fact, the American Psychological Association has shown that long-term stress has a profound impact on the way your immune system responds.
It works like this: stress decreases the number of lymphocytes — the white blood cells that help you ward off infections and disease — in the body. As those white blood cells decrease, you become more at-risk for viruses and ailments. And dealing with a weakened immune system day-to-day is bound to cause even more unnecessary stress. It’s essentially a reciprocal relationship.
Stress affects other parts of the body as well. For example, digestion is inhibited during stress but increases once it has ended. This imbalance has a profound effect on the way your digestive system works, and it can result in more serious health issues, like stomach ulcers.
Furthermore, stress can put a strain on your circulatory system, mainly because of the increased heart rate and elevated adrenaline levels. And as your blood pressure rises, you may cause more damage to your immune system.
If you want to learn how to tell if you have a weak immune system, start by evaluating your stress levels. By decreasing your stress level you increase the chance of having a healthy immune system, which will — in turn — decrease your stress level.
The CDC claims that the average person will naturally experience two or three colds per year. In a healthy adult, this cold should last between seven and ten days.
For the typical person, the immune system takes a few days to develop the antibodies that fight off the infection. However, someone with a compromised immune system won’t bounce back so easily.
In fact, these people are more at risk of developing complications from what would appear to be a common cold. From earaches to pneumonia, the chances of dealing with a greater illness are more likely.
So, can you figure out how to know when your immune system is weak simply by evaluating the common cold? Absolutely! If you seem to catch every cold during the season, or it doesn’t run its course in a normal amount of time, you may be suffering from some level of immunodeficiency.
You can also look at the stomach when you want to know how to tell your immune system is weak. If you regularly experience constipation, gas or diarrhea, these may be signs of a weak immune system.
Research indicates that about seventy percent of the immune system is found in your digestive system. Inside these vital organs is where the microorganisms and good bacteria live that defend your body from infection and viruses. These elements are needed to support a healthy immune system.
As the bacteria in the gut are reduced, you are more at risk for autoimmune disorders, chronic inflammation and viruses.
Additionally, when bad bacteria infiltrate your gut, it leads to an imbalance. This extreme environment causes the small intestine pores to open up and allow food particles and toxins into your bloodstream.
This malfunction hurts the body in several ways. First, the nutrients from that food aren’t being absorbed properly. Second, your immune system sees the food particles and an invading antigen and starts to fight back. This battle increases the level of histamines in your body, resulting in a stomach ache, cramps, bloating, irritable bowel syndrome, food sensitivities and indigestion.
And when the digestive system isn’t working properly, it can lead to other health problems, including chronic skin conditions, fatigue, joint pain and moodiness.
Slow Healing of Cuts and Scrapes
If you want to know how to test immune system strength, consider what happens after you get a cut, scrape or burn. Whenever the skin is damaged, the body should go into overtime, protecting that wound. The body’s job is to send nutrient-rich blood to the new injury and regenerate new skin.
However, studies prove that a weakened immune system can hinder healing. Harmful bacteria quickly takes over the wound as it multiplies, and this bacteria further increases the inflammatory phase, prolonging the healthy clotting that would occur in a body with a healthy immune system.
Suppressed leukocyte functions also keep the body from developing new tissue.
What causes your immune system to be weak, anyway? Oftentimes, it’s just a matter of aging. As people get older, their immune system will naturally become weaker. That’s why the elderly population struggles more with wound healing and infections than younger, healthier individuals.
Additionally, having a poor immune function puts you at a higher risk of skin infections when wounds occur, as any time the circulation or oxygenation of an area is hindered, the healing process is prolonged.
Proneness to Infections
What are the signs of a weak immune system? If you are regularly battling infections, it could be a clear red flag that something isn’t right. According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma Immunology, here are a few signs of immune deficiency related to infections:
- Requiring antibiotics more than twice a year
- Suffering from four or more ear infections in a year
- Having three or more episodes of bacterial sinusitis in a year, or battling chronic sinusitis
- Fighting pneumonia more than once a year
- Develop a severe infection from something that is common
A healthy immune system will learn the germs that infect the body. And once the body has successfully warded off an infection once, it’s unlikely to be reinfected by the same germs.
However, a person that is immunocompromised lacks the ability to learn those germs and produce the antibodies that are necessary to fight off the infection.
In essence, Immunodeficiency disorders cause the body to remain unprotected. This is one reason that people undergoing chemotherapy have a difficult time fighting off infections. The body simply doesn’t have the resources to produce the antibodies needed to combat common ailments.
Getting enough sleep is vital to overall well-being. In fact, studies show that not getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep a night can cause damage to the immune system, as well as increase the risk of heart disease, cause trouble with concentration and spur mood changes.
When you aren’t getting enough sleep, you're not giving yourself the opportunity to repair itself. As you slumber, your tissue and muscles are hard at work, repairing. By putting off sleep, you aren’t giving your body time to relax and rejuvenate.
However, you could be getting the right amount of sleep and still consistently feel tired. Even allergies and hay fever can lead to chronic drowsiness. Anemia, depression, anxiety, fibromyalgia, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, sleep apnea, thyroid conditions and diabetes have all been linked to drowsiness.
If you want to know how to check for a weak immune system, evaluating your sleep is one of the first places to start. If you are getting enough sleep, but still feel tired, then you must consider the possibility of an underlying issue. Your healthcare provider can help you determine why you are always tired. And, in the process of treating conditions causing drowsiness, you can also boost your immune system.
Immune System Testing
In terms of how to know if you have a weak immune system, you can start by evaluating the signs of a weak immune system outlined above to see if you’re struggling to maintain a healthy immune system.
However, some people want to go beyond this initial evaluation. That’s why we’re also explaining how to find out if your immune system is weak, for sure. And the only way to do that is with a blood test.
But, before you get a blood test to check immune system functionality, you’ll want to meet with a healthcare professional. It’s important to discuss your history of symptoms and illnesses.
Additionally, it helps to share your family’s history of diseases. With this information, your physician will know what tests are best for your situation. The immunoglobulin test can determine if you have the proper levels of infection-fighting proteins in your blood. More specifically, an immunoglobulin blood test indicates whether you are struggling with an immune deficiency disease or not.
Blood tests are also helpful when determining if your immune system responds properly to viruses and bacteria. In some cases, improving the health of your immune system requires simple lifestyle changes. But other times, it may require more attentive medical treatment.
Supplements for Immune Support
Now that you know how to tell if you have a weak immune system, you need to know what your treatment options are. Fortunately, supplements can make a big difference for overall immune health.
For example, Vitamin C has been shown in one review of more than 11,000 people to reduce the duration of a cold by 8% percent in adults and 14% in children. Additionally, zinc was used in a study of 575 people that had a common cold. By taking 75 mg of zinc, their cold’s duration was reduced by 33%.
Magnesium is another mineral that has proven to benefit the immune system through recent studies. And, it not only has the potential to boost immune support; it may also help strengthen muscles and bones while supporting cardiac and brain functions.
There are other supplements that aren’t talked about as much, but that may boost immune support. For example, elderberry reduced viral upper respiratory infection symptoms in one study, while Echinacea helped participants in one trial recover from the cold faster. Don’t overlook the potential of garlic, either. One 12-week study showed that common cold incidence could be reduced by 12% in some cases.
Ideally, you would get all of your nutrients, vitamins and minerals from a well-balanced diet. However, there are times when supplementation is necessary to boost immune support.