Paying attention to your body is one of the best things you can do for yourself if you're trying to avoid getting sick. Knowing the signs of a weak immune system can help you avoid going twenty rounds with the flu every year. These signs are important red flags that give you a chance to talk to your doctor about health problems before they progress into serious issues.
Of course, this doesn't mean you need to stress over every change in your body. Environmental factors like work, weather, and being stressed about whether ABC's Stumptown will get renewed for Season 2 can shake up your body's day-to-day functions. To top it off, what is normal for you might not be normal for your bestie. This is why it is so crucial to pay attention to what is normal for your body.
"Some people know when their immune system is weakened by a change in their mood, appetite or sleep pattern," says Dr. Millard D. Collins, MD, chair and associate professor of Family and Community Medicine at Meharry Medical College. "But often, we are so busy in life, we ignore the signs and indicators."
Your immune system has such a huge influence on how your body functions. By learning these signs that may signal a weak immune system, you can work with your doctor to take charge of your health. This might call for lifestyle changes like creating regular exercise routines and unwinding more often to keep your stress levels down. In some cases, it may also mean seeing your doctor for that long-overdue physical. Regardless of your situation, your body will thank you for looking after your immune system.
1. Persistent Colds
For healthy adults, the common cold isn't anything serious, but you probably shouldn't be sick from Halloween till Passover. Typically, Americans catch a cold one to three times a year, with the average length of a common cold lasting about a week, according to Harvard Medical. Within that time frame, the immune system takes three to four days to develop antibodies and fight off the bad guys.
Your body may have trouble with this process if your immune system isn't doing so well. "If you find you are getting sick more often than average or the illness is lasting longer than typical, it could be a sign of a weakened immune system," says Dr. Navya Mysore, MD, primary care physician with One Medical.
2. Stubborn, Swollen Lymph Nodes
Lymph nodes are bean-shaped glands that can be found throughout your entire body. They are especially easy to find in your neck, groin, and armpits. As they filter lymph fluid, white blood cells called lymphocytes kill bacteria and other foreign particles. The lymph nodes will swell up as they're fighting off an infection or injury. If the swelling is persistent, this may mean that your immune system is having a hard time fighting off a problem.
3. Repeated Infections
Show me a person who hasn't dealt with a UTI and I'll show you a liar. Everyone develops infections every now and then. That's where antibiotics, fluids, and time help your body kick it to the curb. But when your immune system is weak, it has a hard time killing bacteria. The result? Relentless infections that return again and again.
"A person with a weak immune system is likely to get infections more frequently than most other people, and these illnesses might be more severe or harder to treat," says Dr. Autumn Burnette, MD, assistant professor in the Division of Allergy and Clinical Immunology at Howard University.
4. Scrapes Take Too Long To Heal
Your immune system goes into damage control when you get a cut, scrape, or burn, she says, sending nutrient-rich blood to help your body heal and regenerate new skin. This vital process of wound healing depends on healthy immune cells. However, if your immune system is weak, your skin may have a hard time regenerating, says Dr. Mysore. Instead, the pesky wound will linger and refuse to heal.
5. Constant Fatigue
"If you’re getting enough sleep and still suffering from exhaustion, it’s worth considering if your immune system is trying to tell you something," Dr. Burnette says. When your immune system struggles, so does your level of energy. Your body is trying to conserve that energy to fuel your immune system. As a result, you will feel tired no matter how many cups of coffee you chug. This can be annoying when you need to work, socialize, and do your thing. When fatigue starts getting in the way of daily normal activities, it is certainly worth paying attention to.
Dr. Millard D. Collins, MD, chair and associate professor of Family and Community Medicine, Meharry Medical College
Dr. Navya Mysore, MD, primary care provider, One Medical
Dr. Autumn Burnette, MD, Assistant Professor Division of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Howard University
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