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Immunosuppression is the suppression of the body's own defense system. It describes a process that suppresses the immunological activity of the humoral and / or cellular immune system . This can be an undesirable consequence of an impact from the inanimate environment, an infection , a malignant ailment , a disease caused by a different cause or a mental or physical overload, but also an undesirable consequence of a medical diagnosis and a desired or undesired consequence of a medical treatment .

Result of an illness

In the course of some infectious diseases, immunosuppression occurs, especially through the human immunodeficiency virus , which gave the fully developed clinical picture the name AIDS . But other pathogens also impair the immune system; this usually happens for a short time and in some cases even for years after measles . Tumor cells can also cause immunosuppression , for example as a result of the antigen shedding .

Result of excessive demands

After physical and mental overload ( stress ) there is a decrease in immune cells in the blood , such as granulocytes , natural killer cells and B and T lymphocytes . The immunosuppressive effect of stress is the subject of psychoneuroimmunology . In sports medicine , the time after high levels of physical strain on the organism, in which infectious diseases occur more frequently, is called the open window phenomenon .


The release of radioactive particles and gases in the course of accidents in nuclear power plants , after nuclear weapons explosions and during the breakdown of radioactive minerals or ores such as in uranium mining, as well as long-term inhalation of the air in buildings whose building material releases radon for regional reasons , increases the tendency to mutations . In addition, the number of immune cells can be reduced, at least in the acute phase after high doses. As a result, malignant diseases increase in those affected. The damage to health caused by military radar systems , which are recognized socially and legally in Germany and which are attributed to the unintended release of X-rays, mainly include cancer of various organs, while cases of immunosuppression have been described in this context, but not yet recognized. A weakening of the immune system can also be a consequence of the immunosuppressive effect of UV-B rays , which disrupts the T-cell -dependent immune response. Excessive UVB exposure of the skin promotes the development of malignant skin tumors such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma and significantly reduces the defense against pathogens such as bacteria, fungi or viruses. Diseases caused by parasites such as leishmaniasis , schistosomiasis or malaria are more severe and longer after UV exposure. The medical use of radiation for diagnostics ( X-ray , magnetic resonance ) and for treatment can also impair the immune system.

Desired immunosuppression

In the case of autoimmune diseases , a - as specific as possible - lowering of the immune response is desired, for example after a transplant of cells, tissue or organs and after immunologically induced reactions after blood transfusion . Even in the case of strong allergic reactions to environmental allergens such as hay fever , allergic asthma and allergic contact eczema , an immunosuppression - likewise as specific as possible - is sought. The drugs that are used for this are called immunosuppressants .


Opportunistic pathogens pose a serious risk in immunosuppression . In addition, the risk of cancer increases in the course of immunosuppression, such as non-Hodgkin lymphoma or mucositis .

See also

Individual evidence

  1. ^ [1] UV radiation and skin cancer, Institute for Prevention and Occupational Medicine of the German Statutory Accident Insurance IPA 2011, accessed on March 12, 2014
  2. [2] Vacation attacks on the immune system, Pharmazeutische Zeitung online 2005, accessed on March 12, 2014
  3. Susanne Donner: Cancer risk increases massively after organ donation In:, September 11, 2018, accessed on September 11, 2018.