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Testing the immune system: Keeping track of the defensive forces
Your immune system must perform at its best every day. While most people’s defenses do their job reliably, other people often complain about health problems. Whether gastrointestinal infections, colds or exhaustion – if you often suffer from such complaints, a weak immune system. With the help of various examinations you can test your immune system and thus identify possible causes.
Is it even possible to examine the immune system?
While it is relatively easy to examine the health condition of organs such as the kidneys, heart, lungs or liver, it is relatively difficult to check the functionality of the immune system. This is primarily because the immune system is not a single organ. Rather, various organs and functional systems of the body are involved in the structure of the immune system, which complement each other and together ensure that the organism can effectively fight bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites.
The control centre for the immune system is undoubtedly the intestine. This is where central processes take place that determine how well your body can stand up to pathogens. But the spleen, the lymphatic system, the thymus and the bone marrow are also supporting pillars of the immune system. To examine all the systems involved individually for their immunological performance would be very time-consuming. After all, it is precisely the good interaction of all components that is decisive for a strong defence. Nevertheless, various tests can be used to check whether the immune system is not working as effectively as desired.
Testing the immune system with laboratory methods
Those who frequently have health problems should not be afraid to consult a doctor to have their immune system examined. The most important tests are the large blood count, the cellular immune status and the analysis of immunoglobulins.
Blood count and cellular immune status
A blood count tells you how many platelets and red and white blood cells are in the blood. While blood platelets (thrombocytes) are responsible for blood clotting and red blood cells (erythrocytes) are involved in transporting oxygen, white blood cells (leukocytes) play a crucial role in the immune defence system.
A healthy person has between 4,000 and 8,000 leukocytes in one microlitre of blood. If the organism is weakened, the value can be higher and even break through the 10,000 mark (leukocytosis). Serious cancers, however, can greatly reduce the number of leukocytes. A leukocyte count of less than 2,000 is called leukopenia.
To test the immune system extensively, it is advisable to learn more about the leukocytes. With the help of a laboratory procedure called flow cytometry, the percentage of individual subgroups such as T lymphocytes, B cells or NK cells in the blood can be determined. This can provide important information about the functioning of the immune system and, depending on its characteristics, can indicate various clinical pictures.
In order to check the immune system, a quantitative and qualitative examination of the immunoglobulins can also be useful. Immunoglobulins are antibodies that are produced by the humoral immune system. Individual antibodies like immunoglobulin G can be divided into different classes. Each subclass performs different tasks. Depending on whether too much or too little of a particular class of immunoglobulin is present, this can be an indication of a specific disease.
When should you have your immune system tested?
A flu-like infection is by no means a reason to worry. On average, every person in this country falls ill with an infection twice a year. Bacteria and viruses are particularly popular during the cold season. This is when colds occur more frequently. Regular encounters with sick people at work or on the train also ensure that you are constantly in contact with pathogens. Even the strongest immune system reaches its limits at some point. However, there are symptoms that indicate that your immune system is weakened. If you have any of the following symptoms, you should seek medical advice and have your immune system tested:
- high susceptibility to infections (colds, gastrointestinal infections, etc.)
- permanent fatigue and exhaustion
- skin irritations, herpes diseases
- concentration disorders
- restricted wound healing
- hair loss
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