The immune system plays the crucial role of protecting the body and defending against pathogens, illness, and disease. Unfortunately, chronic health conditions impact 6 out of every 10 American adults and these conditions often impair their underlying immune system and function.

Below are some of the most common chronic conditions and the ways in which they compromise the immune system.

Heart Disease

Heart disease affects 121.5 million adults in the United States. The term heart disease describes a range of conditions such as coronary artery disease, congenital heart defects, and issues that affect the heart’s muscle, valves, and rhythm. All of these conditions have the ability to negatively affect the immune system as the body perceives the cholesterol-containing plaque inside coronary blood vessels as a foreign invader and works to eliminate it, which results in inflammation. If the body continues to attack the coronary blockages, the prolonged state of inflammation strains the immune system as it is forced to continually stay in an active state and fight the plaque rather than potential foreign invaders.

Heart disease can also impact your lung function. Because a compromised heart struggles to effectively pump blood from the lungs to the rest of the body, blood can build up and raise the pressure in the pulmonary veins. This results in fluid being pushed into the lungs, making it harder to breathe. It is important to note this connection between the heart and lungs and the strain that results between the two with heart disease patients, as it makes them more vulnerable to respiratory infection when their lungs are weakened.

Chronic Lung Disease

The lungs are not only weakened by heart disease but also conditions such as severe asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pulmonary fibrosis, and chronic pneumonia. All of these diseases block airflow to the lungs, making it difficult to breathe and resulting in irritated lung cells and inflammation.

These inflamed lung cells also strain the immune system as they fuel an immune system cycle in which the body sends additional inflammatory immune cells to the lungs in an attempt to fight the chronic conditions. Long-term lung inflammation leads to both extensive lung damage and an impaired immune response to respiratory infections.

Diabetes and High Blood Sugar

With more than 100 million U.S. adults now estimated to have either diabetes or pre-diabetes and 47 million estimated to have metabolic syndrome, it is important to understand how this affects the body’s capacity to fight off illness.

Diabetes is a disease that occurs when the body’s ability to produce or respond to the hormone insulin is impaired resulting in elevated blood sugar levels, a state called hyperglycemia. Chronic hyperglycemia, which can occur in type 1 and type 2 diabetes, can damage the function of white blood cells such as neutrophils and T cells, which help fight off viruses, toxins, and bacteria.

High blood sugar compromises the body’s antioxidant system, which helps fight against free radicals and oxidative stress. Additionally, people with high blood sugar often have reduced blood flow because the sugar creates increased blood viscosity, which makes it more difficult for the blood to reach smaller blood vessels in the eyes, heart, nerves, feet, arms, and kidneys. The reduced internal blood flow makes the body less capable of mobilizing immune cells that are responsible for defending the body against infection.

Immunocompromised Conditions

There are many conditions that can result in someone being immunocompromised, or impaired or unable to fight against pathogens. Cancer, bone marrow or organ transplantation, HIV or AIDS, and prolonged use of certain medications can all lead to someone being immunocompromised.

Regardless of the condition or cause, those who are immunocompromised produce fewer T cells, macrophages, and complement proteins, which are all key parts of the immune system. Therefore, when the immune system lacks these aspects of its defense response, its ability to combat illness is impaired.

Autoimmune Conditions

Unlike those that are immunocompromised and have an underactive immune system, the 24 million Americans with autoimmunity have an overactive immune system. Patients with conditions such as lupus, celiac disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, multiple sclerosis, or rheumatoid arthritis may suffer from their immune system being overactive to the point of attacking its own healthy cells. Therefore, unlike the previously addressed conditions, those with autoimmune conditions do not necessarily have a weakened immune response rather, they are more likely to have complications from illnesses when their body overcompensates and begins to attack itself.

If you do have an underlying condition that puts you at a higher risk of developing a severe illness, the good news is that chronic health issues can be well managed through nutrition, lifestyle, and medications. At Holtorf Medical Group, our expert physicians utilize innovative treatments to strengthen your immune system. Contact us to learn about our immune-supporting therapies, and see how we can help you!

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