Immunocompromised: This Means You!
Updated: May 20
As healthcare providers, we sometimes get so caught up with the lingo specific to “our world” that sometimes we just assume that others know what the heck we are talking about.
Case in point, if you haven’t noticed, there’s been a lot of press conferences, news stories, and hashtags about a very specific virus (I won’t say the name because I know some people are tired of hearing about it.) But during all this coverage, I couldn’t help but wonder if everyone understood…well…everything. After reading several posts on social media and hearing conversations, I realized that some people don’t get it all.
There are sooooo many terms and words used regarding “this virus,” but I just want to try to clear up the confusion about one term: IMMUNOCOMPROMISED.
Several authorities including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) have actually given examples of immunocompromised patients. I’ve also heard a few people “define it” as “when you have a compromised immune system.” That’s not incorrect, but it definitely doesn’t explain what that word really means.
Your immune system is the army inside of your body that fights off infections and diseases. Some people that have health conditions can cause this “army” to weaken or be less effective. Most people know that someone with cancer or HIV/AIDS have “weak armies.” You may be part of the select few that know that certain medications that can also weaken this natural “army.” And you may even be part of the select few that are aware that temporary conditions, like pregnancy, can also keep the body from fighting the enemy. But there are a few other circumstances that make you just as immunocompromised as the people I just mentioned.
I know what you’re thinking: “I’m not immunocompromised. I can eat a bowl of viruses and not get sick.” Are you sure about that? Many factors can temporarily suppress your immune system, but I’m just going to mention the three:
SMOKING: If you asked any random person to come up with a consequence to smoking, they will probably say, “lung cancer.” This can be true. Some studies have shown that the chemicals in cigarettes can suppress the immune system. The good news: this can be temporary. Quitting can have an overall improvement of health.
LACK OF SLEEP: Ever since we were kids, we’ve been told to “go to bed” and “get a good night’s rest.” As we age, this goal gets harder. For night owls, insomniacs, frequent travelers on those “red-eye” trips, or even late-night binge-watchers, a “good night’s sleep” isn’t on our to-do list. Guess what? All of these can compromise your immune system. Your body does some of its best and hardest work when you are sleep, which includes making the cells and chemicals that your immune system needs to work properly. That means the less you sleep, the less time you body can “reboot” your army. GO TO SLEEP!
CHRONIC STRESS: Trust me, even I struggle with this one. When stressed, the body produces a hormone that decreases the function of the immune system. Finding healthy ways to relax with things like yoga, exercise, or healthy hobbies, can be a huge benefit for your body.
If you are affected by one or more of the things I mentioned above, your immune system may be compromised. This means that when you hear the news talking about “the virus” being dangerous to “immunocompromised” individuals… they’re talking about you. When your immune system is weak, you have to be careful to avoid spaces, places, or people that can expose you to an infection.
Good nutrition, plenty of fluids, exercise, and good quality sleep are a few simple steps in improving the immune system. And if you’re reading this at 3 a.m. while smoking a cigarette because you’re stressed….yes, I’m talking to you.
Dr. Gina Simone