Immune Deficiency Disorders

“If life is a battlefield, I'm simply unarmed.”

Those words were written by a woman living with primary immune deficiency disease. After suffering for most of her life with symptoms like constant sinus infections, pain, fatigue and nausea — and meeting with countless doctors who couldn’t determine the cause of her symptoms — she was finally diagnosed with an immune deficiency. She is more susceptible to infections and her body is not adequately built to fight them off.

A healthy immune system is the body’s natural defense system. Made up of lymphoid tissue (e.g., bone marrow and the lymph nodes) and white blood cells, the immune system is responsible for guarding and protecting the body against germs, viruses, cancer cells and bacteria. The white blood cells, known as B cells and T cells, identify disease-causing pathogens and respond by triggering an inflammatory reaction to kill them. The immune system produces proteins called antibodies to destroy the foreign, harmful substance.

If a portion of the immune system is either missing or functions improperly, it won’t fight the harmful substances that it should. An underactive immune system can cause repeated or severe infections that attack various parts of the body, including the skin, ears, brain, spinal cord, respiratory system and urinary/gastrointestinal tracts. This is called an immune deficiency. Immune disorders may be congenital or acquired.

How Can I Tell If I Have an Immune Deficiency?

According to experienced allergy specialist Dr. Baxter, you may have an immune deficiency if you experience the following:

  • Chronic or frequent sinus infections
  • Recurrent pneumonia (two or more times)
  • Repeated bouts of bronchitis
  • Skin abscesses
  • Gastrointestinal problems – chronic diarrhea and weight loss
  • Chronic urinary tract/yeast infections
  • Recurrent meningitis
  • Infections with rare organisms (West Nile invasive infections are being increasingly linked to immune deficiencies)

If you or your child experience any of these symptoms, you will want to seek out the best care possible. Dr. Baxter has specialized training in immunology to diagnose and coordinate treatment for an immune deficiency.

Diagnosing an Immune Deficiency

To diagnose an immune deficiency, Dr. Baxter relies on a full work-up and testing. She will order comprehensive blood testing to measure your white blood cell count and the different types of lymphocytes you possess.

She may also use vaccines to test your immune response. She will take blood samples before administering the vaccinations, and several weeks after to look at how the blood responds to the vaccines. A healthy immune system will produce antibodies to fight the organisms in the vaccine. A compromised immune system won’t produce antibodies normally.

Dr. Baxter may also order chest or sinus X-rays or scans to look for chronic infections, or may have you produce a sputum culture.

Treating an Immune Deficiency

The goal of treatment is to address any active disease or infection and prevent future infections. One of the primary ways to treat an immune deficiency is through infusions of gammaglobulin, the antibodies found in blood plasma that helps boost immunity against diseases. These infusions provide antibodies that patients cannot produce naturally because of a various immune deficiencies. Infusions can be administered in the office, at home, or (rarely) in a hospital or outpatient facility. In emergencies, they may be given in the ICU.

Dr. Baxter’s office houses an infusion suite where she administers intravenous gammaglobulin to a number of her patients. She is actively following over 40 patients with immune deficiencies. Many patients are relieved to understand why they are different.

Contact Dr. Baxter

If you’d like to learn more about the symptoms, diagnosis or treatment of immune disorders, please contact Dr. Baxter by calling (214) 363-8653 or contact her via email.

Dr. Barbara Baxter

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by Barbara Stark Baxter MD
Internal Medicine & Allergy Specialist