Your immune system protects you all year round from infection and illness caused by germs. It tries to keep viruses, bacteria, and parasites out, and fights back if they get into your system. But what exactly happens inside your body if your immune system gets weakened?
Which organs are part of your immune system?
Your immune system is a vast and complex system of cells, organs, and tissues. They work in harmony to detect and destroy any foreign germs which threaten your health. The main organs of your immune system are the lymphoid organs, which house the important white blood cells which help get rid of infection. These lymphoid organs include your lymph nodes, thymus, bone marrow, spleen, liver, adenoids and tonsils, and your skin.
A closer look at your lymphatic system
Your bone marrow is the tissue in the middle of your bones. It is where white blood cells (called leukocytes) are produced and stored until they are needed to detect and destroy viruses or bacteria.
Your lymph nodes are little organs that also produce and store special cells that can fight infections.
Your thymus is an organ located between your lungs, which has an important role in your immune health. This is where your T-cells live, which help destroy infected cells. Did you know that your thymus grows until puberty and then starts to shrink as you age?
Your spleen is the largest organ in your lymphatic system. It is on the left-hand side of your abdomen, next to your stomach, and is about the size of a fist. This is where your body stores more white blood cells that can fight off infection and illness.
Can your organs be damaged by a poor immune system?
If your immune system is weakened during your lifetime, this is called secondary or acquired immunodeficiency disorder. There are lots of different ways this can happen, including lifestyle factors, your environment, and even ageing itself.
If your immune system is compromised, your body’s organs could be at greater risk of infection and disease.
What happens to your organs when your immune system is weak?
A few of our immune system organs naturally get weaker and less efficient as we age. The thymus, for example, gets smaller once we reach puberty. And other immune system organs can atrophy and produce fewer white blood cells in old age.
Some types of immune system disorders leave the immune system under active or sometimes over active. When a weakened immune system is over active, it can actually attack your own body by mistake. This can lead to your skin or internal organs being damaged. Common examples of this type of damage is allergic reactions and hay fever but there can be more serious risks of having a weak immune system.
How your immune system can damage your body’s organs
Because the immune system is so large and complex, it has the potential to cause a lot of problems within your body. Here are six of the most common health issues caused by a weak, damaged, or inefficient immune system:
- Rheumatoid arthritis and permanent joint damage when a poor immune system mistakenly attacks the lining of your joints.
- Lupus, a serious immune system disorder that can affect the lungs, kidneys, blood cells, and nerves.
- IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) – including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease – when the immune system attacks the intestines, causing damage to the lining.
- MS (multiple sclerosis), caused by the immune system attacking nerve cells.
- Type-1 diabetes, when the immune system destroys the cells in your pancreas which produce insulin.
- Psoriasis, when the immune systems’s T-cells collect in the skin and over-stimulate normal skin activity.
There are lots of other less common health issues connected to a weak immune system. These include Guillain-Bare syndrome, Graves’s disease, and Hashimoto’s thryoiditis.
The best way to tackle your risk of any immunodeficiency health problems is to prevent them! Look after your immune system by keeping it strong, healthy and functioning properly. There’s lots you can do, from getting enough sleep to eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly. A healthy immune system will keep protecting you throughout your life. Do everything you can to support it, and it will repay the favour.