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Immunodeficiency Disorder

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

An immunodeficiency disorder describes any condition that weakens the body's ability to fight off infection.

What is going on in the body?

An immunodeficiency disorder can be present at birth, such as severe combined immunodeficiency. It may also be acquired, such as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). A person who has one of these disorders is prone to develop infections. These infections often become severe.

What are the causes and risks of the condition?

The disorder may be genetic or acquired. AIDS, for example, is caused by a virus that can be spread by transfusion of contaminated blood, sexually, or by using contaminated needles. The risk of acquiring AIDS following blood transfusion has decreased due to routine testing of all blood products.

Symptoms & Signs

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?

The symptoms present depend on the type of immunodeficiency disorder. The one thing all such disorders have in common is frequent infections. These infections may occur anywhere in the body.

Diagnosis & Tests

How is the condition diagnosed?

A history of repeated or unusual infections suggest one of these disorders. A healthcare provider may do various tests, including blood tests and special x-rays, to search for a cause of a weakened immune system.

Prevention & Expectations

What can be done to prevent the condition?

Most of these disorders cannot be prevented.

AIDS can be prevented by avoiding unprotected sex and by not sharing needles. If a person has sex, condoms can reduce the risk of catching human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS.

What are the long-term effects of the condition?

Almost any infection may lead to death if the immune system cannot fight it off.

What are the risks to others?

A person with an immunodeficiency disorder may have infections that can be spread to other people.

Treatment & Monitoring

What are the treatments for the condition?

Aggressive antibiotic treatment is needed to quell most infections. There may be no treatment for the underlying disorder, though.

What are the side effects of the treatments?

Antibiotics can cause allergic reactions and stomach upset. Other side effects depend on the antibiotic used.

What happens after treatment for the condition?

Most of these disorders are long-term problems. Repeated treatment for infection and monitoring are needed.

How is the condition monitored?

A person who has one of these disorders should see a healthcare provider at the first sign of a possible infection. Otherwise, the type of monitoring done depends on the disorder.

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