Weak Immune System Symptoms: Here Are the Signs and Solutions

July 11, 2020 7 min read

Man sitting on the couch wrapped in a blanket sick with the flu

Are you feeling sick, tired or weak? Have you found that feeling under the weather has become a part of your daily routine? If so, you could have a weak immune system. Although we can’t physically see our immune systems, they protect us from millions of harmful bacteria, microbes, viruses, toxins and parasites that are unseen to the naked eye.

Protection against harmful germs begins with the skin, the openings of your mouth and the nostrils. If germs and bacteria get inside your body, your immune system sends out defenses via your blood, organs, muscles and bones(1). When your immune system fails, your body doesn't have any natural protection against diseases, making you more prone to illness.

What is a weak immune system?

A weak immune system results in health complications because it is not functioning properly(2). People with weakened immune systems due to underlying medical conditions such as cancer, diabetes, liver or kidney disease, alcoholism, HIV or AIDS, can be more susceptible to contracting other illnesses, such as listeria(3).

When your immune system isn’t working the way it should, it’s called an immune system disorder (4). An immune system disorder can be caused by:

  • Having a weak immune system, which is called a primary immune deficiency.
  • Having a disease that weakens your immune system, known as acquired immune deficiency.
  • Having an immune system that is too active. This can be caused by an allergic reaction.
  • Having an immune system that turns against you, also known as an autoimmune disease.

Although washing your hands for 20 seconds or more and keeping germs away from your eyes, ears and nose are essential to avoid contracting many illnesses, you can still experience symptoms of a weak immune system due to other issues(5). With the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever to take additional precautions to stay healthy.

Whether you're experiencing mild weak immune system symptoms or more severe signs, keep reading to find out the symptoms of a weak immune system and how to prevent sickness and stay healthy.

What causes a weak immune system?

An overactive immune system can lead to autoimmune disorders because your body can’t tell the difference between your healthy cells and invaders due to hyperactive immune responses. Autoimmune diseases affect more than 23.5 million Americans (6). Autoimmune disease happens when the body’s natural defense system mistakenly attacks normal cells that are meant to protect because the immune system can’t tell the difference between its own cells and foreign cells(7).

Frequently being ill could be a sign of an immunodeficiency disorder that’s preventing your body from fighting infections and diseases. When you have an immunodeficiency disorder, it’s easier to catch viruses and bacterial infections. Primary immunodeficiency disorders (PIDs) have been described as diseases caused by one or more defects of the immune system, leading to an increased risk of infections(8). Two examples of PIDs areWiskott-Aldrich syndrome andDiGeorge syndrome.

Immune deficiencies are classified as primary or secondary. While primary immune deficiencies are due to the inherent dysfunction of the immune system, secondary immune deficiencies are often the result of other underlying causes. There are currently more than 100 different forms of autoimmune diseases (9). If your immune deficiency is genetic, it means there are problems in your genetic code, which acts as a blueprint for producing the cells of the body (DNA).

A few common autoimmune diseases include(10):

  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Lupus
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Psoriasis
  • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
  • Vitiligo

Although each autoimmune disease varies, many common symptoms include fatigue, dizziness, and low-grade fever(11).

Symptoms of a weak immune system

A common sign of a primary immunodeficiency is infections that are more frequent, longer-lasting or harder to treat than infections of someone with a normal immune system. Infections that are harmful to someone with a weak immune system but aren’t dangerous to a normal person are called opportunistic infections (12). An example of this would be Cryptococcal meningitis, a serious infection of the brain and spinal column that can occur in people living with HIV.

Although symptoms differ depending on the type of primary immunodeficiency disorder and they vary from person to person, weak immune system symptoms can include:

Hair loss

Hair loss can occur if your body develops alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease that causes your cells to attack your hair follicles(13). When the hair follicles are attacked, it makes the attached hair fall off.

Low-grade fever

A low-grade fever is a mild elevation of your temperature above normal(14). If a frequent temperature persists, it could be a sign of an infection.

Man sitting on the couch with his face in his hands

Frequent exhaustion

Feeling like you haven’t gotten enough rest, even if you slept a healthy amount of hours at night, could mean your immune system is in trouble. Constant fatigue can be a sign that your body is trying to conserve energy to fight off infection(15).

Autoimmune disorder

An autoimmune disorder can cause achy muscles to arise as a symptom if your immune system attacks your muscles(16). When infections form, the immune system sends white blood cells to fight off the infection, causing inflammation that can leave muscles in the body feeling sore.

Adults normally suffer through about two or three colds each year and most people recover within 7 to 10 days(17). However, if you’re sick more often than that, your immune system could be in danger and it may be time to see a healthcare professional. If your record of getting sick matches the following list, you could have an immune deficiency(18):

  • Suffering more than four ear infections in one year
  • Getting pneumonia twice during a one-year period
  • Dealing with chronic sinusitis or more than three episodes of bacterial sinusitis in a year
  • Requiring more than two courses of antibiotics a year

How to stay healthy

Prioritizing your health is an effective way to defend yourself against sickness if you’re experiencing an autoimmune disease. The following ways can help you fight illness:

Eat abalanced diet

Limiting unhealthy meals and avoiding trans fat, cholesterol, salt and added sugars can significantly improve your diet. Nearly 70 percent of your immune system is located in your digestive tract, so eating healthy is essential(19). Beneficial bacteria and microorganisms live in your stomach and defend your body against infection by supporting the immune system. Eat fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk products and lean sources of protein to cut down on calories to prevent weak immune system symptoms.

Get enough sleep

Resting tissues and joints at night helps your body repair itself. Getting good rest can improve your mind and body. Skipping out on crucial sleeping hours will increase stress levels and may worsen your symptoms. Strive to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. If possible, try to go to sleep and get up at the same time daily, and get the same number of hours of sleep every night.

Exercise regularly

Working out is crucial when you have an autoimmune disease because exercise boosts energy levels and stimulates endorphin production, which acts as a natural painkiller. Exercise can also help decrease inflammation throughout the body. Getting your heart pumping is also a stress-buster that knocks out depression and anxiety that can accompany autoimmune diseases(20).

Mother and son washing their hands at the sink together

Wash your hands

Keeping your hands clean can ward away germs that can make you sick. The best way to wash your hands is to wet your hands with clean, warm running water and soap and lather them together for at least 20 seconds(21).

Keep up with your vaccines

Vaccines are crucial, especially for people with a weakened immune system(22). Be sure to check in with your primary health care physician to confirm you are up-to-date on all necessary vaccines.

Don’t smoke

Smoking weakens your immune system, changes how your brain functions, and compromises the equilibrium of the immune system. It harms the immune system and can make the body less strategic at fighting disease. When you smoke, it can negatively impact the balance of the immune system, which increases the risk of several immune and autoimmune disorders. Smoking impacts the body's production of many immune or inflammatory mediators, including both pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines making it harder for your body to fight diseases(23).

Try to minimize stress

Stress harms your immune system, and long-term stress weakens the response of your immune system over time(24). Stress and anxiety can also amplify the symptoms of some autoimmune diseases(25). The stress hormone corticosteroid can suppress the effectiveness of the immune system by lowering the number of lymphocytes in your body. There are three main types of lymphocytes in the body known as T cells, B cells, and natural killer cells. Lymphocytes are white cells that are essential to the immune system because they act to recognize antigens, produce antibodies, and destroy cells that cause damage(26). To keep your stress levels in check, stay balanced by meditating, doing yoga or participating in enjoyable hobbies. If you find that stress is ruling your life, seek help from a healthcare professional. Other healing options include meditation and self-hypnosis, which are simple relaxation techniques that might help you to reduce stress.

Take supplements

Usingprobiotics to treat autoimmune disease may help improve your health(27).Probiotics have been researched to determine potential beneficial effects in the prevention and treatment of a wide variety of systemic conditions(28).

Organic Ashwagandha andKSM-66 Ashwagandha are all-natural, extra-strength supplements that can banish stress and help you relax, focus and increase your energy and stamina.Studies show that Ashwagandha has anti-anxiety and stress-reduction properties and can decrease symptoms of stress by as much as 69 percent(29) (30). TakingAshwagandha will boost and protect your immune system by lowering your stress levels and increasing cytokine levels, phagocytosis, and corticosterone levels, which help destroy pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, and infected cells.Ashwagandha also increases the activity of natural killer cells, which are immune cells that fight infection and help you stay healthy (31).

In summary

Experiencing weak immune system symptoms means you need to re-evaluate your health and take a look at how you’re treating your body. Symptoms such as frequent exhaustion, hair loss and achy muscles could be a sign of a weak immune system. From incorporating healthy food to minimizing stress to taking supplements, there are many ways to combat weak immune system symptoms.

Laura Tolliver - Contributing Writer, Physician’s Choice