Immunosuppressive drugs may simply be called immunosuppressants. There are many different forms of these drugs that act in different ways on the immune system so that this system doesn’t produce a normal immune response. The immune system of the human is intensely complex and can be of great benefit, but also a huge problem if it malfunctions. People who suffer from autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or HIV have what are called inappropriate immune responses, where the body’s immune system attacks the body, instead of attacking foreign cells. In order to inhibit this response, immunosuppressive drugs can form a part of treatment.
Another indication for use of immunosuppressive drugs is organ transplantation. Usually, without immunosuppressants, the body views the new organ as foreign and will immediately kick up an immune response, labeled “rejection” of the organ. Certain medications dull or eliminate this response so that the body accepts the organ. Some recent trends in transplantation show there are ways to give these drugs for a shorter time period and still avoid rejection, which significantly improves survival rate and body acceptance of an organ.
There are various ways immunosuppressive drugs can act. They might inhibit certain genes that create immune response or stop cells from dividing. Some cause a reduction in inflammation, and others are used as a way to stop allergic response, especially for sufferers of things like asthma. In most cases, though these drugs are beneficial, they can also take a serious toll on health.
One of the main difficulties with using immunosuppressive drugs is that the body is then vulnerable to viruses and bacterial or parasitic infections, much more so than the body that has an appropriate immune response. However, chance of illness if the immune system isn’t suppressed is so much greater that using these drugs is generally justified. That doesn’t mean they don’t have a significant downside.
Some immunosuppressive drugs are so strong they will require quarantine of a patient at a hospital while they are used. These are usually used for short periods of time only, because it would be very difficult to pursue any type of normal life if quarantine was necessary at all times. Other immunosuppressive drugs can cause upsurge in number of illnesses a person will get, and these illnesses can be more severe and dangerous than they would be for a person with an adequate immune response. People taking immunosuppressants may need special precautionary measures. These could include getting their vaccinations, having yearly flu shots, and avoiding direct contact with people with serious illnesses or sometimes even mild illnesses.