Posted on Jul 27, 2023, 4 p.m.
Living with an immunocompromised condition can be challenging. It’s not unusual for patients to feel particularly vulnerable, as a layer of protection from the risks the world presents is not as effective as it once was. This means that a strong system of support in a range of areas is vital.
A part of this support should also include education on immunocompromised conditions and the mechanics behind them. Gaining this knowledge — as a patient, family member, or caregiver — can help you make more informed decisions moving forward that can result in positive health and life quality outcomes.
What Does it Mean to Be Immunocompromised?
An immunocompromised condition is a medical diagnosis that directly or indirectly affects a patient’s immune system, which can make them more susceptible to other illnesses. Patients may also experience more intense symptoms and take longer to recover. In some instances, it’s not simply the medical condition itself that puts people in an immunocompromised position. Rather, the treatment they’re receiving can also result in a disrupted response.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), patients who may be immunocompromised includes those who are in active treatment for solid tumors and hematologic malignancies. Patients receiving chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T-cell therapy, in receipt of solid-organ transplant and getting immunosuppressive treatment, and people living with advanced or untreated HIV infection can also be immunocompromised. However, this is certainly not the limit of people or circumstances that may need to navigate the challenges.
How Can You Navigate Medication and Nutrition?
A large part of proper care for an immunocompromised condition is diet, proper nutrition, and appropriate medication and supplements. After all, even the most healthy body can be strongly impacted by these factors. While living with these types of conditions can cause feelings of loss of control, patients and caregivers can take actions regarding medication and nutrition that make a big difference.
For one, maintaining a balanced diet with plenty of whole foods, fresh vegetables, and protein is essential. In particular, foods that are rich in vitamins A, C, D, and E, alongside iron and zinc micronutrients support cell growth and can even boost your immune system. Planning out a varied and enjoyable diet that includes these elements can be a solid step to protecting the patient’s well-being.
In some instances, medication may be unavoidable. As previously mentioned, some drugs may be the source of an immunocompromised state. However, patients can also take certain medications in tandem that can prevent the immune system from overreacting to these treatments. This same medication can also be treated for autoimmune disorders in general. The first step is certainly to check with medical professionals whether immunosuppressant drugs are strictly necessary as opposed to alternative treatments. If so, actions such as maintaining a healthy weight, stopping smoking, and getting adequate sleep can support a stronger system.
What Adjustments Should You Make?
Patients, families, and caregivers will also need to adopt healthy lifestyle adjustments. This doesn’t necessarily mean that patients’ lives need to be less enriching or varied. Rather, it’s about taking steps to ensure a full and positive experience that minimizes potential risks.
One of the most important steps is to pay close attention to cleaning routines. This isn’t just about implementing regular hand cleaning during person-to-person interactions, but also about cleaning the home.
Effective routines should include the utilization of appropriate disinfectants and pre-wetted wipes for surfaces and eating areas. However, the wiping technique also impacts effective cleaning. Those who sanitize cleanrooms tend to fold pre-wetted wipes into quarters, as this provides 8 clean layers to use. You should then proceed to wipe a surface once, before exposing a new layer for each successive wipe. This prevents potential cross-contamination.
Contact Your General Practitioner
Another important lifestyle adjustment is being mindful of the symptoms of illness. This isn’t to say that patients or caregivers should adopt a sense of panic at the onset of every cough or sniffle. However, it’s also wise not to be dismissive of symptoms or to self-treat. Even for relatively minor illnesses, it’s worth taking a moment to reach out to a medical professional. They’ll be able to provide advice on steps to mitigate further issues in ways that enable the patient to continue their activities healthily.
Mental Health Changes
On the flip side, you should also make room for mental health services. Although little evidence points toward any causational relationship between immunocompromised conditions and mental health conditions, some of the behaviors that are associated with these immunocompromised conditions can worsen pre-existing conditions. For example, one 2022 study that evaluated the mental health of immunocompromised adolescents found that their mental health declined during the pandemic due to social isolation.
Although patients may not isolate themselves to the extent that the pandemic required, this behavior may be necessary from time to time. In these instances, it’s best to find ways to maintain your mental and social well-being — whether that means using Zoom social dates or utilizing telehealth counseling services.
Immunocompromised conditions result in weakened defenses against illnesses. As a result, it’s important to adopt a range of actions — whether you’re a patient, caregiver, or loved one. With some planning and knowledge, patients and caregivers can navigate the challenges of immunocompromised conditions in empowering and impactful ways.
This article was written for WHN by Charlie Fletcher who is a freelance writer from the lovely “city of trees”- Boise, Idaho. Her love of writing pairs with her passion for social activism and her search for the truth. You can find more of her writing on her Contently.
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement.
Opinion Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of WHN/A4M. Any content provided by guest authors is of their own opinion and is not intended to malign any religion, ethic group, club, organization, company, individual, or anyone or anything.
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