Cryoglobulins are proteins found in the blood that precipitate (clump together) in the cold and cause inflammation and organ damage. However, these proteins can occasionally be present in low levels in the blood without any symptoms. When there are symptoms due to the cryoglobulins, the disease is called "cryoglobulinemia."
What are the symptoms of cryoglobulinemia?
Most people with cryoglobulins have no symptoms other than elevated levels on lab tests. When symptoms are present, they are most commonly fatigue, joint pain, numbness or weakness, and a rash that looks like red spots or purple bruises, usually over the lower legs.
Other symptoms and signs may include:
- Change of the color of hands and/or feet (from normal to white to a purplish-blue color) with cold, called "Raynaud's Phenomenon"
- Weight loss
- High blood pressure
- Swelling of ankles and legs
- Skin ulcers and gangrene
- Enlarged liver or spleen
- Numbness, tingling or weakness
- Kidney damage
What causes cryoglobulinemia?
Cryoglobulinemia can be present alone or can be associated with other diseases such as:
- Infection, particularly hepatitis C infection
- Blood cancers such as lymphoma and multiple myeloma
- Connective tissue disease such as lupus
How is cryoglobulinemia diagnosed?
Cryoglobulinemia is diagnosed by a specific blood test that detects the presence of cryoglobulins in the blood. Learning the type of cryoglobulins can sometimes help determine its cause.
How is cryoglobulinemia treated?
Treatment of cryoglobulinemia depends on the organs affected, degree of damage, and presence of other medical conditions. It is very important not only to treat the cryoglobulinemia but also to address any other associated disorders.
The mainstay of treatment is corticosteroids with or without other medications depending on the affected organ and the extent of involvement.
Another form of treatment decreases the amount of cryoglobulins in the blood. This procedure, called plasmapheresis, filters out clumps of cryoglobulins from the plasma (the liquid in the blood). This helps prevent cryoglobulins from clogging the arteries, which blocks blood flow and could lead to blood clots and organ damage.
If another medical condition has been found, such as hepatitis C, anti-viral therapy may be recommended with a referral to a hepatologist (liver specialist).
If multiple myeloma or lymphoma is found, a referral to a hematologist is recommended.
© Copyright 1995-2014 The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. All rights reserved.
This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 10/22/2014...#13204