Immunology refers to the study and examination of anything that may affect the immune system. Tests of this type are typically requested by physicians and healthcare professionals looking to determine the source of a patient’s symptoms. The results are based on an assessment of any antibodies (proteins made by a type of white blood cell) found in a sample. Immunological tests identify the specific foreign substance (antigen) that may be causing a patient’s immune system to react. Such information will determine what treatment to recommend.
How Immunology Testing is Done
Artificial antibodies are produced with an immunoglobulins test that match the specific germ that’s causing a patient’s illness or infection. This is a common process used to do immunological testing for the purpose of finding out what type of virus, bacteria, or fungus may be affecting a patient. For instance, antibodies produced due to a tuberculosis infection will only attach to TB bacteria. There are different types of antibodies that can further help determine the source of a patient’s symptoms. People with allergies, for example, have higher levels of IgE antibodies.
Why Immunological Testing is Done
Immunological tests have many applications. A physician may order a test to diagnose certain types of cancer. Antigens can be identified to show what’s likely triggering a patient’s allergies. Blood groups can be determined prior to a transfusion. Testing can also identify thrombosis that sometimes occurs following a heart attack and detect various infection-causing germs such as streptococcus bacteria or borrelia bacteria that can indicate Lyme disease. Recreational drugs can also be detected with immunological testing. A panel reactive antibody (PRA) is an immunological test often done on individuals waiting for a transplant.
Identifying Autoimmune Disorders
Sometimes, the body produces antibodies in response to its own tissues. If this occurs, a patient has an autoimmune disease. HLA (human leukocyte antigens) typing is a test that can be done to identify certain conditions of this nature. Common autoimmune diseases that may be detected with immunological tests include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Inflammatory bowel diseases
- Type 1 diabetes
- Thyroid gland disorders such as Hashimoto’s disease and Graves’ disease
Identifying Immunodeficiency Disorders
Patients who have an under-active immune system may have an immunodeficiency disorder. This is determined by measuring the levels of antibodies produced in response to antigens. If a patient’s immune system isn’t producing sufficient antibodies, they may have an immunodeficiency disorder. Conditions of this type include:
- Leukemia and other cancers of the immune system
- Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS)
- Hepatitis and similar immune-complex diseases
Response to Immunizations
Testing might be requested to check a patient’s immunity to certain diseases. This information is sometimes needed if it’s not known if a prior vaccination has worn off.
The information that’s provided by immunological tests can provide many answers for doctors wishing to know what’s going on within a patient’s immune system. Available in the form of an easily accessible report, results can be used for diagnostic purposes, to monitor the progress of an existing medical condition, or to determine if a recommended treatment is effective.