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When first hearing the phrase “overactive immune system,” you might wonder how this could be considered a bad thing. After all, wouldn’t it be fantastic to have an immune system that functions on overdrive?
Unfortunately, your immune system is not meant to work like that. The goal is to have a perfect balance of immune activity -- an immune system that powers up at the first sign of a threat, but does not work so hard that it negatively affects the body’s overall health.
Your immune system is meant to protect your body, and it cannot do so in an overactive state.
So, how do you know if you have an overactive immune system? And what can you do to keep it under control? For all this and more, keep reading!
The immune system is, essentially, the body’s protector. Think of it as a collection of soldiers, lined up row after row. If one level of defense falls, there is another waiting behind it to hold up the line.
The body’s immune response is a collective effort. Everything from your skin to your digestive system is involved in keeping the body safe. Immune cells, most notably white blood cells, roam the body in search of pathogens, debris, or any other object that does not look like it belongs. When they notice something out of place, they communicate any necessary information to the rest of their body and launch their attack.
When your immune system is active (due to, let’s say, a cold), you will often feel symptoms such as a cough, a fever, and/or acute inflammation. While these symptoms can be bothersome, they are actually a sign that your immune system is working to eliminate the issue!
A healthy immune system needs two things: balance and memory. Balance maintains that all aspects of the immune response are working together to protect the body, while also making sure that the immune response does not go overboard. When the immune system remembers previous encounters with invaders, it will be better prepared for the future, hence the importance of memory.
All in all, the immune system is a vital part of the body’s health -- we simply would not be able to survive without it!
As we just determined, the immune system is meant to defend the body and only attack its invaders. However, sometimes the immune system ends up attacking the body itself as well. This is called an overactive immune system.
Doctors know very little about why these overactive immune responses may occur. Genetics, race/ethnicity, diet, and lifestyle could all play a role. If you are a woman, you are about two times as likely as a man to develop an overactive immune system/autoimmune disorder.
To explain what an overactive immune system is, let’s look at this scenario: some aspect of the environment (bacteria, for example) has triggered your immune response, and so your immune cells deploy to investigate the issue. A healthy immune system would immediately be able to differentiate between outsiders and native cells, and would focus their attack only on the former. An overactive immune system, on the other hand, mistakes the body’s cells for foreigners, and unknowingly launches an attack on them as well.
The key words here are “mistakes” and “unknowingly” -- see, having an overactive immune system is not a sign that your body is rebelling against you. Rather, it shows that something has gone wrong within the body to damage the immune system’s functionality.
An overactive immune system can present itself in many different ways:
Remember when we said earlier that the symptoms of a healthy immune response (such as acute inflammation) are completely normal and a sign that your immune system is functioning well? Well, an overactive immune system causes symptoms that are less promising for the body, like chronic inflammation.
Other common symptoms include:
In addition, each autoimmune disorder has its own particular symptoms. Some symptoms might be constant, while others might fluctuate. If you have any of the symptoms listed above, bring them up with your doctor so they can help you determine what might be causing them.
Luckily there are plenty of steps you can take to minimize the symptoms of your overactive immune system or just support your immune function overall, in addition to any prescription your doctor may have prescribed.
Consider the following:
An overactive immune system occurs when the body mistakes healthy, native cells for foreign invaders. As a result of this, you could develop various conditions, such as allergies, asthma, or even an autoimmune disorder.
To lessen the symptoms of an overactive immune system and maintain a normal, healthy life, use immune supplements, follow a balanced diet, and live an active lifestyle.