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Medical Dictionary

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Immune system

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Immune system The immune system is a complex system that is responsible for distinguishing us from everything foreign to us, and for protecting us against infections and foreign substances. The immune system works to seek and kill invaders.

If a person is born with a severely defective immune system, death from infection by a virus bacterium, fungus or parasite may occur. In severe combined immunodeficiency, lack of an enzyme means that toxic waste builds up inside immune system cells, killing them and thus devastating the immune system. A lack of immune system cells is also the basis for DiGeorge syndrome: improper development of the thymus gland means that T cell production is diminished.

Other immune disorders result from either an excessive immune response or an 'autoimmune attack'. Asthma, familial Mediterranean fever and Crohn disease (inflammatory bowel disease) all result from an over-reaction of the immune system, while autoimmune polyglandular syndrome and some facets of diabetes are due to the immune system attacking 'self' cells and molecules.

A key part of the immune system's role is to differentiate between invaders and the body's own cells - when it fails to make this distinction, a reaction against 'self' cells and molecules causes autoimmune disease.
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