Wondering How To Measure Immunity?
- 6 mins read
- Health Conditions
- Written by: Reshma Pathare
- Human beings have been given an inherent immune system to keep their bodies safe and living. Through a complex network of cells, tissues, and organs, the immune system combats the substances containing antigens.
- How the immune system responds to the antigens, is known as immune response. Alterations in the immune response lead to additional problems such as allergies, autoimmune diseases, and immunodeficiency disorders.
- Recurring cold, cough, ear infection, feverish-ness, digestive tract problems, loss of appetite, pain in joints or muscles, sudden headaches, or skin rashes are tell-tale signs of a weak immune system.
- Immunity testing is required to identify underlying health problems before they burgeon into something more complicated
- Primary Immunodeficiency testing, Serology testing, blood test for Lymphocyte Count, Immunoglobulin blood test and tests for Autoimmune Disorders are the five most important tests to be undertaken to check immunity levels.
We have a small task for you. Just do a quick calculation and find out how frequently you experience any of the following symptoms: Sore throat, flu, cold sores, ear infection, and sudden high fever.
Grade each of them from 0 to 4 – 0 for never and 4 for frequently. Sum up all these numbers. The higher the number you get, the weaker is your immune system and vice versa.
The immune system in a nutshell
Human beings have been given an inherent system to keep their bodies safe and living. That is the immune system, which identifies and fights against harmful elements i.e. antigens that can be found on cells, bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites.
Certain medications, particulate matter, chemicals, toxins, etc. also qualify as antigens due to the infections and diseases they embed in the human body. Through a complex network of cells, tissues, and organs, the immune system combats the substances containing antigens.
- Nearly 4% of the world’s population is affected by one of more than 80 different autoimmune diseases
- The World Health Organisation South-East Asia region has made it a focal point of its agenda to enhance the capacities of its laboratories to test for the SARS-CoV2 that led to the coronavirus pandemic. The number of labs testing for SARS-CoV2 has grown from five at the start of the pandemic to now over 4,800 in the SE Asia region.
- As per 2019 statistics, lower respiratory infection is the 3rd most common cause of death in Thailand. It has affected around 77.1% of the population of Thailand and is attributable in vast measures to low immunity
The immune system is made up of particular types of white blood cells (WBCs), certain chemicals, and proteins viz. antibodies, complement proteins, and interferon. Either they attack the antigens directly or help the immune system cells tackle the problem.
WBCs are known as Lymphocytes of two types: B-type lymphocytes and T-type lymphocytes. The B-type lymphocytes produce antibodies that cling to the antigen and help the immune cells to kill the antigen. T-type lymphocytes (also known as T lymphocytes or T cells) are direct attackers who tackle the antigens directly and also release cytokines to regulate the immune response.
What is an immune response?
How the immune system responds to the antigens, is known as immune response. If this immune response is skewed towards too little or too many antibodies fighting against the antigens, it leads to the body getting plagued with additional problems such as allergies, autoimmune diseases, immunodeficiency disorders, hypersensitivity, or serum sickness.
Humans have three types of immunity viz. Innate, Acquired, and Passive. Innate immunity is the one we’re born with; Acquired immunity is the one we develop via repeated exposure to certain antigens; and Passive immunity is a short-term one that we get from external sources like breastmilk, colostrum, or vaccines.
Why is it necessary to measure your immunity?
The primary reason behind the necessity to undergo immunity testing at regular intervals is that we do not usually approach a doctor unless we see or feel obvious pain or discomfort. However, that does not mean that our systems are working fine from within.
The human body is a fascinating mechanism that is programmed to give tell-tale signs of trouble much before the problem starts burgeoning. However, we’re may not be always tuned to taking those signals seriously or even understanding them.
Recurring colds, feeling feverish, having digestive tract problems, having a consistent loss of appetite, feeling pain in joints or muscles, getting sudden headaches, or having unexplained outbreaks of skin rashes are all the body’s ways of saying that you have a weak immune system.
If a person has an excessively low immune system, he/she may suffer from more serious ailments like pneumonia, bronchitis, inflammation of internal organs, anemia, and growth problems (in children).
To prevent niggling issues from growing into something more complicated and difficult to resolve, it is advisable to undergo immunity tests at periodic intervals as per a doctor’s advice, apart from, at crucial junctures like pregnancy to avoid passing on weakened immunity to the baby.
Now, why did I score so poorly on the immunity test?
Took the above test and found out that you didn’t fare so well? Wondering why? We have a list of the possible reasons.
Multiple studies have been conducted to understand why the perceived immune functioning of people is so poor. According to a few surveys, the reasons were as follows:
- Internet-related problems: The hours spent online, the content viewed, and addiction to the internet are some of the problems affiliated with internet usage. The whole world is available at our fingertips, and so are the issues associated with it. Indulging in them all the time, be it reading the news or on social media, can take a toll on our mental health. This can hamper our immunity.
- Sleep problems: The quality of sleep, sleep disorders, sleep duration, and our body clock are the factors that can influence our immune system.
- Mental health issues: Loneliness, anxiety, and depression are a few mental health issues that can strike a blow on our immunity.
- Hampered relations: Problems in relationships, family feuds, spite with co-workers, etc are contributors to stress, which could add to mental health problems and lower immune function.
How to know if I have a weak immune system?
There are two ways to check your immunity levels viz. analysis based on signs symptoms and laboratory findings.
If you observe any of the tell-tale warning signs mentioned above, it is an indication that your immune system is weakened or compromised.
- If your cold and cough don’t go away in 4-5 days, and/or keep returning persistently, it is a cause for worry. So also, as 70% of our immunity stems from the helpful bacteria and other microorganisms thriving in our intestines, having persistent bloating, gas, and diarrhea are symptoms of a weak immune system.
- If your wounds take more time to heal, it indicates that your immune system is not working as fast as it should, which is why the healthy immune cells are not being able to repair the damaged area fast.
- If your life is generally stressful, and/or, if you face problems is getting undisturbed sleep, those also point to problems with the immune system.
These are pointers for analysis via signs & symptoms. But, if these signs keep popping up with alarming regularity; if you suffer from more serious health issues like meningitis and pneumonia; or experience sudden hair loss (alopecia) or reddening of eyes (uveitis) or psoriatic outbreaks, then it is wise to go into for laboratory analysis of your immunity levels, to take curative and preventive measures for a better life ahead.
How to check your immunity level via laboratory tests?
Depending on the consistency and severity of your physical symptoms, doctors will prescribe different types of laboratory tests to check levels of immunity. These are important precursors to deciding the correct line of treatment. Let’s take a look at what those are:
Normal blood test for lymphocyte count
Lymphocyte blood tests are to check if the level of lymphocytes in the blood is more or less than the recommended range.
Lymphocyte count differs according to a person’s age, gender, and lifestyle. However, on average, the normal count ranges from 1000 to 4800 lymphocytes per 1 microlitre of blood in adults.
Having less or more lymphocytes can indicate problems in one’s health. A spike indicates the presence of an infection or inflammation and usually is temporary and harmless, but more than 4000 lymphocytes per 1 microlitre of blood indicate lymphocytosis, which can have more serious implications like cancer and viral infections like HIV.
Lymphocytopenia means having a lymphocyte count of less than 1000 per 1 microlitre of blood. This could be due to genetic conditions, steroid therapy, autoimmune diseases, radiation, and infections like viral hepatitis.
A lymphocyte blood test will screen the presence or absence of different types of B cells such as Memory B Cells, Regulatory B Cells, and Plasma Cells; as well as, T Cells such as Killer T Cells, Helper T Cells, Regulatory T Cells, Memory T Cells, and Natural Killer T Cells. All of these have separate functions viz. producing antibodies, remembering antigens to help the immune system respond better during the next attack, killing infected cells, and influencing other immune cells.
Immunoglobulin Blood Test
If you suffer from persistent diarrhea, sinus infections, lung infections, bacterial infections, or viral infections, the doctor may prescribe an Immunoglobulin Blood Test to see if your immunoglobulin levels are low or high.
Immunoglobulins are proteins with the antibody activity.
High levels of immunoglobulins can indicate underlying autoimmune diseases, hepatitis, HIV, mononucleosis, cirrhosis, or cancer.
Low levels of immunoglobulins can indicate sepsis, complications due to diabetes, leukemia, kidney problem, or even malnutrition.
Primary immunodeficiency tests
Some people are born with a deficient or malfunctioning immune system, which makes them easily susceptible to contracting diseases and illnesses.
There are almost 300 types of immunodeficiencies, including B cell deficiencies, T cell deficiencies, deficiency of B & T cells (combination), complement deficiencies, phagocyte defects, and idiopathic deficiencies.
Most of them are too mild to be discovered till the person grows well into adulthood. Nevertheless, the presence of these immunodeficiencies:
- makes the person get ill faster
- it takes much longer for his/her illnesses to get cured
- keeps getting ill repetitively
- contract illnesses that a non-immunodeficient person will not get
Immunodeficient people may also suffer from one or more of the following issues:
- chronic diarrhea, nausea
- loss of appetite
- skin rashes and outbreaks
- infections of the skin, ear, sinus, and even internal organs
- inflammation of internal organs
There are different tests to measure primary immunodeficiencies. These include:
- Antibody deficiency screening test to measure the immunoglobulin or antibody levels in blood serum and understand the antibody-producing capacity of the person
- T cell screening test to understand the number of various T cells and the functions they’re doing in the person’s body
- Neutrophils function test to determine how less or more are the neutrophils beyond their normal range
- CH50 test aka the total hemolytic complement assay to screen for deficiencies in the complement system
- Apart from that, there are tests to measure genetic mutation to understand which genes have affected the person’s immune system; tests to measure innate immunity; WBC blood test; and protein electrophoresis test to measure the proteins in blood and urine.
Autoimmune Disorder tests
There are around 80 types of autoimmune disorders that a person can get affected by. Autoimmune disorders occur when our immune system mistakenly starts attacking our healthy cells.
There are several factors, apart from genetics, that are said to be causative for triggering autoimmune diseases viz. stress, unhealthy diet, certain chemicals, and environmental factors.
Some commonly found autoimmune disorders include psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and type 1 diabetes.
While there are some common signs of autoimmune disorders such as joint pain, skin outbreaks, fatigue, and redness, medical diagnosis depends on a bevy of laboratory tests, as follows:
- Antinuclear antibody test i.e., the ANA test is the basic one that a doctor may suggest if they suspect an autoimmune disorder. However, this test cannot tell which autoimmune disorder you have exactly.
- C Reactive Protein aka CRP test measures how much CRP has been released into the bloodstream in response to inflammation. CRP is a protein that the liver produces. The test can detect changes in CRP levels in response to autoimmune diseases, as well as, infections, or other chronic conditions.
- Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate ESR test is a blood test that sees how quickly the red blood cells sediment at the bottom of a test tube. Faster sedimentation indicates the probability of autoimmune disorder or other inflammatory conditions in a person.
- Rheumatoid Factor RF test is used to specifically test for the presence of the protein called rheumatoid factor that attacks good cells, joints, and glands.
- Enzyme-linked Immunosorbent Assay aka ELISA test is suggested by the doctor if he/she suspects a particular type of autoimmune disorder and wants to confirm it. The ELISA test detects the presence of specific antigens or antibodies in the blood.
An antibody serology test (simply known as serology test or antibody test) is undertaken to check for the presence and volume of certain antibodies in the blood, to know whether they can specifically fight diseases like Covid-19 (caused by Sars Cov-2 virus), shingles, chickenpox (caused by a varicella-zoster virus), hepatitis, mononucleosis, measles, and autoimmune diseases.
A doctor will take a blood sample to check if you have enough antibodies to fight these diseases. The test cannot diagnose the disease in itself, but can only show if your body beholds enough immunity to fight the same.
The serology test can find out if you have had an infection in the recent past and/or if your vaccination is effective against the disease(s). However, a limiting factor of this test is that it cannot show if the antibodies are developed from the vaccine or current/past infection.
While the test can show if you have enough antibodies or not, it also shows if you have auto-antibodies i.e., those that attack healthy cells to trigger an autoimmune response leading to autoimmune disorders.
It is important to remember that a healthy body is the foundation of any material achievement or success; and, the foundation of that healthy body is a good immune system. Recurrent health issues due to a weak or malfunctioning immune system can prove very disturbing and distractive.
- Keeping aside genetic factors inherited from the family bloodline, most immunity-related issues can be resolved by taking simple measures to preserve good immunity.
- Keep away from stress or at least vent out stress before it becomes chronic.
- Follow a healthy diet.
- Get undisturbed, peaceful sleep.
- Follow basic hygiene for your body and home.
- Take extra care of hygiene in terms of sanitization and disinfecting if you have small kids or pets.
- Follow vaccination schedules for all family members, without compromise.
Most importantly, if you feel some symptom raising its head more often than normal, do not be afraid to visit a doctor and take the immunity tests that he/she suggests. It’ll only help in starting corrective remedial action faster, for quicker results in terms of restoring your good health.
- NSCF – https://nationalstemcellfoundation.org/glossary/autoimmune-disease/
- IHME – https://www.healthdata.org/thailand
- WHO – https://www.who.int/southeastasia/news/feature-stories/detail/covid-19-pandemic-testing-capacities-grow-manifold-in-who-south-east-asia-region-focus-now-on-enhancing-genome-sequencing
- Medline Plus – https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000821.htm
- Good Health By Yourself – https://www.goodhealthbyyourself.info/wondering-how-to-measure-immunity/
- Penn Medicine – https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/health-and-wellness/2020/march/weakened-immune-system
- Medical News Today – https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320987#b-and-t-cell-screen
- Medline Plus – https://medlineplus.gov/lab-tests/immunoglobulins-blood-test/
- Medline Plus – https://medlineplus.gov/lab-tests/antibody-serology-tests/
- Mayo Clinic – https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/primary-immunodeficiency/symptoms-causes/syc-20376905
- Immune Deficiency Foundation – https://primaryimmune.org/laboratory-tests
- Verywell Health – https://www.verywellhealth.com/autoimmune-blood-test-5112938#:~:text=These%20measurements%20provide%20crucial%20data,1%20diabetes%20and%20autoimmune%20hepatitis.
- Medical News Today – https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324930#_noHeaderPrefixedContent