What are the symptoms of immune suppression?
Much of the time, if you have immune suppression, you do not know you have it. However, you may be prone to getting infections more frequently. Also when you do get infections, they may be more severe and you may be more likely to develop severe complications. You may also get unusual or uncommon infections. For example, in general, healthy adults do not usually get thrush in the mouth, unless there is a good reason for it, such as using a steroid inhaler. For people with AIDS, however, thrush is common and may be very widespread or severe.
The medicines which can suppress your immune system may give you other side-effects. These vary and will be listed in the information which comes with your individual medicine.
What are the complications of immune suppression?
Infections can develop and spread particularly quickly in people whose immune systems are suppressed. A sore throat, for example, is more likely to develop into a chest infection. You are more likely to get spread of any one individual infection to your whole body (sepsis), which can make you dangerously ill.
People who have immunosuppression also seem to be at higher risk of certain types of skin cancer. This includes squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), melanoma and Kaposi's sarcoma. It is not entirely known for sure why this is. It may be because the immune system helps to destroy skin cells which have been damaged by the sun. These cells, if not removed by the immune system may go on to multiply and cause cancer. It may also be that viruses (such as human papillomavirus - HPV, or herpes viruses) involved in some cancers are more likely to be present if the immune system is suppressed. Some immune-suppressing medicines may directly affect skin cells in a way which makes them more likely to develop skin cancers.
If I have immune suppression, what symptoms should prompt me to see a doctor?
If you have immune suppression, the when-to-see-your-doctor rules change. With most minor infections, healthy people are encouraged to take a wait-and-see approach, treating the symptoms and only visiting the doctor if they feel very unwell or the infection is not settling on its own. If you have immune suppression, however, even a mild infection could become serious very quickly. So it is best to see a doctor as soon as possible rather than waiting to see how things go. Infections caught early can be treated quickly, preventing them from spreading and making you unwell. You are more likely to be given an antibiotic for a mild infection compared with someone who is not immunosuppressed, and it may well be in extreme cases that this might save your life.
So see a doctor if you think you might have an infection, such as a sore throat, a cough, symptoms of a urine infection, food poisoning, etc.
Seek urgent medical attention if:
- You have a high temperature (fever) over 38°C.
- You have chills or shakes (rigors).
- You feel generally unwell with dizziness or drowsiness or confusion.
- You have a rash.
- The light hurts your eyes.
- You have fits (seizures).
If you have a child who is immunosuppressed, all the above applies, but also seek medical attention urgently if your child is breathing rapidly, or not eating or drinking as normal.
Also keep an eye on your skin. If you develop any scaly areas which don't clear up quickly with a good moisturising cream, or if you have a new mole or one which has changed then see your doctor. Hopefully it won't be any kind of skin cancer, but if it is, the earlier it is treated, the better the outcome will be.
Further reading and references
Immunisation against infectious disease - the Green Book (latest edition); Public Health England
Immunosuppression; Travel Health Pro Fact Sheet
Splenectomy; Public Health England, January 2015
Wilsdon TD, Hill CL; Managing the drug treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Aust Prescr. 2017 Apr40(2):51-58. doi: 10.18773/austprescr.2017.012. Epub 2017 Apr 3.
Yu SH, Bordeaux JS, Baron ED; The immune system and skin cancer. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2014810:182-91.
Skin cancer in transplant recipients; DermNet NZ
Renal transplantation - immunosuppressive regimens for children and adolescents; NICE Technology Appraisal Guidance (2006)
Moini M, Schilsky ML, Tichy EM; Review on immunosuppression in liver transplantation. World J Hepatol. 2015 Jun 87(10):1355-68. doi: 10.4254/wjh.v7.i10.1355.
Hello! I was recently admitted to hospital after visiting my GP with persistant stomach pain (about 2 months on and off) and to cut a long story short, a CT scan showed an inflamed bowel which I was...Skydriver
Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.