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Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD)

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Cryoglobulinemia


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Your Question

What is cryoglobulinemia?  How is it diagnosed?  How might it be treated?  What are the expected outcomes for individuals with cryoglobulinemia?  How common is it? 

Our Answer

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What is cryoglobulinemia?

Cryoglobulinemia is a type of vasculitis that is caused by abnormal proteins (antibodies) in the blood called "cryoglobulins." At cold temperatures, these proteins become solid or gel-like, which can block blood vessels and cause a variety of health problems. Many people affected by this condition will not experience any unusual signs or symptoms. When present, symptoms vary but may include breathing problems; fatigue; glomerulonephritis; joint or muscle pain; purpura; Raynaud's phenomenon; skin death; and/or skin ulcers. In some cases, the exact underlying cause is unknown; however, cryoglobulinemia can be associated with a variety of conditions including certain types of infection; chronic inflammatory diseases (such as autoimmune disease); and/or cancers of the blood or immune system. Treatment varies based on the severity of the condition, the symptoms present in each person and the underlying cause.[1][2]
Last updated: 5/7/2015

How is cryoglobulinemia diagnosed?

Cryoglobulinemia can be diagnosed by certain blood tests, examining a sample of skin (skin biopsy), urine tests (urinalysis, particularly to look for blood in the urine), taking images of the arteries (angiogram), a chest x-ray, and/or testing the funtion of the nerves in the arms or legs. [3]
Last updated: 9/27/2010

How might cryoglobulinemia be treated?

The treatment for cryoglobinemia depends on the cause and severity of this condition.  Avoiding cold temperatures may be enough to treat mild cases.  Severe cases may be treated by taking medication to reduce the body's immune response (corticosteroids), by removing some of the blood and replacing it with fluid or donated blood (a process called plasmapheresis), or by specifically treating diseases that may cause cryoglobulinemia (such as hepatitis C). [3]
Last updated: 9/27/2010

What are the expected outcomes for individuals with cryoglobulinemia?

Cryoglobulinemia is usually not deadly.  The outcome usually depends on the disease causing cryoglobulinemia as well as each person's response to treatments.  The outcome is not as good when a person's kidneys are affected. [3]
Last updated: 9/24/2010

How common in cryoglobulinemia?

Cryoglobulinemia is estimated to affect 1 in 100,000 individuals. [4]
Last updated: 9/24/2010

References
See Disclaimer regarding information on this site. Some links on this page may take you to organizations outside of the National Institutes of Health.