Lymphatic and Immune System Diseases

Lymphatic and Immune System Diseases
Lymphatic and Immune System Diseases (Image: Sebastian Kaulitzki)

Most health problems can be linked to a poor or weak immune system. Sometimes called the lymphatic system, the immune system consists of organs and body tissues that produce, store and carry disease-fighting white blood cells. In a healthy immune system, a war is being successfully waged against antigens, foreign substances attacking the body. However, when an immune system is losing the battle, a person can suffer various diseases and disorders.


An overactive immune system can cause many immune system diseases and disorders. Examples include Huntington's disease, lupus, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia and even depression. On the other hand, an underactive or weakened immune system can lead to common colds, flu, cancer, chronic Fatigue syndrome, cancer and other diseases. Primary immune system disorders are congenital diseases that are inherited, occur at birth, and usually detected in early childhood. An acquired disorder, also known as a secondary disorder, is one that develops because of secondary causes. These diseases can be because of aging, malnutrition or certain medications. Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which indirectly assaults the immune system. Diseases can also be the result of Improper functioning of one or more of the components of the affected immune system. In addition to lymph nodes and lymphatic vessels, the immune system is composed of bone marrow, tonsils, thymus and spleen.

Common Diseases

Asthma, an inflammatory condition, is the result of an immune system overreacting and is characterized by coughing, chest tightness and breath shortness. Crohn's disease is another example of an overactive immune system. This inflammatory bowel disease occurs when the immune system attacks the gastrointestinal tract, with diarrhea, abdominal pain, weight loss and vomiting as symptoms. Mediterranean fever, also caused by an overactive immune system, is a hereditary inflammatory disease causing abdominal pain. It usually affects young Armenians, Turks and Sephardic Jews living around the Mediterranean Sea. Diabetes is a disease that affects the body's ability to make and use insulin and can result in blindness, heart disease, neurological disease, kidney failure and other conditions. Forms of diabetes can result from immune system diseases because of an immune system attacking molecules and self cells. Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) is a cancer of the blood cells where bone marrow is replaced with malignant leukemia cells, mostly found in the blood, making the spleen, liver and other organs enlarge. Typically, it's diagnosed by finding the chromosomal abnormality called the Philadelphia (Ph) chromosome. DiGeorge syndrome is the result of insufficient immune system cells caused by an improper development of the thymus gland.


Sometimes, an immune system disorder can occur because of a drug used to treat a disease such as cancer in which chemotherapy treatments are given. However, people can respond differently to the same drug, with some patients having all side effects, while others have none. Most fall within the middle of the two extremes.


Lymphoma, which makes up about 3 percent of all cancers, refers to cancers that begin in the lymphatic system. Just as all cancers, lymphoma cancers are diseases in which cells grow at abnormally rapid rates. The cause of lymphoma is uncertain but are believed to be caused by taking drugs to suppress the immune system. Lymphoma is divided into the two basic groups of Hodgkin's disease (HD), also known as Hodgkin's lymphoma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL). Hodgkin's disease is the most common lymphoma and is identified by the Reed-Sternberg cell as a result of a biopsy or surgery. Although it's rare for children to get Hodgkin's disease, it's the third most common type of cancer found in kids. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are used as treatments. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma causes about 20,000 deaths in the United States yearly, with about 66,000 new cases each year (see Resources). Although both begin in the lymphatic system, they can attack other organs. Non-Hodgkin's disease is more prone to spread away from the lymph nodes and is not as predictable as Hodgkin's disease. Occurring mostly in people ages 40 to 70, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma can be due to several factors, including physical and chemical agents as pesticides, hair dyes, paint thinners and bacterial conditions.

Symptoms of Lymphoma Disease

Hodgkin's disease has symptoms similar to those of the flu such as achiness, fever and swollen glands. Other symptoms may include night sweats, breathing difficulties, weight loss, chest pains and coughing.
Common symptoms of non-Hodgkin's lymphomas are swelling (although painless) in the neck lymph nodes, groin or underarms. Fever, weight loss, fatigue, night sweats and patches of reddened skin are other symptoms, in addition to vomiting, abdominal pain or nausea.


Many people believe that vaccines weaken the immune system. However, vaccines actually build up the immune system, protecting people from particular diseases.


The body loses its ability to fight infection as lymphomas progress, although symptoms are not signs of cancer, but could be due to illnesses as the flu. If symptoms of lymphomas last longer than 2 weeks, seek immediate medical attention.

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