What to Know About Secondary Immunodeficiency Disorders?

Medically Reviewed by Jonathan E. Kaplan, MD on February 12, 2024
2 min read

Secondary (or acquired) immunodeficiency is one of the frequent causes of infections in adults. These immunodeficiency disorders affect your immune system partially or as a whole, making your body an easy target for several diseases and infections.

Secondary immunodeficiency disorder is more common than primary (or congenital) immunodeficiency. In most cases, the treatment of underlying disorders can help manage secondary immunodeficiency.

When immunodeficiency disorders affect your immune system, your body can no longer fight bacteria and diseases. 

These disorders are divided into two major classifications, including:

  • Secondary immunodeficiency disorders. Your body develops these disorders over time these disorders develop over time due to various underlying medical conditions or treatments.
  • Primary immunodeficiency disorders. These occur in early childhood and are either inherited — because of family history — or caused by a genetic change in your body's cells and tissues.

Several factors in the environment can cause secondary immunodeficiency disorders.

Some common ones are:

  • Radiation or chemotherapy, which can lead to a secondary immunodeficiency disorder known as neutropenia
  • Chronic disease
  • Severe burns
  • Infections due to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can result in acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) 
  • Leukemia, a cancer that begins in the cells of the bone marrow which can lead to low white blood cell count.
  • Malnutrition, which affects up to 50% of populations in underdeveloped countries and leaves people vulnerable to respiratory infections and diarrhea
  • Drugs or medications. Certain medications that suppress the immune system in people with autoimmune disorders can increase the risk of infections.
  • Chronic infections. Chronic infections, such as acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), caused by HIV infection, can lead to several secondary immunodeficiency disorders. In this condition, the virus targets white blood cells of your body—which fight infections and bacteria—while multiplying. Over time, the number of white blood cells decreases, leaving the body vulnerable to a variety of diseases.

The most common immunodeficiency symptoms are:

  • Diarrhea
  • Pneumonia
  • Sinus infections
  • Ear Infections
  • Inflammation of internal organs
  • Colds
  • Pinkeye
  • Digestive issues, like diminished hunger and nausea 
  • Yeast infections

Symptoms vary for each immunodeficiency disorder, which can be either acute (sudden and short term) or chronic (occurring over a long period). 

Most secondary immunodeficiency disorders can be easily treated by treating the underlying condition. 

The bone marrow transplant is the most common treatment for secondary immunodeficiency. 

Therapies such as the ART (Antiretroviral Therapy) antiviral treatment, allow white blood cells to recover from a dangerous loss. These drugs have significantly increased the lifespan of people with HIV and AIDS.