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What is Immunosuppression?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Images By: Djiggibodgi.com, Thirteen Of Clubs, Gorilla, Tyler Olson
  • Last Modified Date: 19 November 2016
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In most cases, it’s a good thing for the body’s normal immune response to act appropriately. Reducing it would lead to things like greater infection or lower chances of fighting off disease. In contrast, medical science has discovered that there can be, for a small group of people, real benefit of acting in the opposite direction. Immunosuppression is the intentional act, or side effect of another treatment, that reduces immune response, and which can be beneficial to people with certain diseases or medical conditions.

Anyone who has heard of transplants has probably heard of the issue of transplant rejection. Since most people get transplants from other people, the immune system has a tendency to go into overdrive, attacking the new organ, and if it is successful, rendering it useless. Clearly the immune system is not acting in the best interest of the patient and will likely kill the person getting the transplant through its actions. With immunosuppression, doctors have a means of interfering with this process.

Once people receive transplants they receive a variety of medications, which change all the time in name, dosage, and length of use, that create an environment of immunosuppression. This can keep the body’s normal immune response in check so that it does initiate rejection of the organ. While immunosuppression is becoming more specified, it still puts the person receiving the transplant at risk.

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A person with a suppressed immune system is more vulnerable to disease of other sorts because the immune system doesn’t respond as it should to fight regular germs. People who have had transplants, particularly right as they’re recovering, need particular care to ward off illness. This is difficult to achieve in hospital settings where opportunistic infections abound.

Transplant is not the only reason immunosuppression could be desirable. In many autoimmune conditions, certain forms of steroids are used to suppress inflammatory response that attacks the body. People with conditions like Lupus or Crohn’s disease may take medications such as prednisone or budesonide regularly, so the immune system does not view the body as a “foreign” invader.

It isn’t uncommon for doctors to use area specific immunosuppression with steroids. Many allergy and asthma medicines are mini-immunosuppressants. These medicines are more site specific, and don’t have as many negative consequences as systemic steroids.

In some circumstance immunosuppression isn’t a goal, but a price of treatment. People undergoing chemotherapy to treat cancer spend some time with weakened immune systems. On the other hand, treatment of cancer and bone marrow transplant at the same time would be desirous of this goal so new bone marrow wasn’t rejected.

Essentially, immunosuppression may be a deliberate medical act to promote healing by turning off the immune system. It can also be consequence of medical acts that are also designed to heal, but do so with extraordinary side effects. Illnesses may cause a suppressed immune system too, challenging doctors to find ways to strengthen immune response so a person is able to fight off diseases.

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