What is cryoglobulinemia?

Cryoglobulins are proteins found in the blood that precipitate (clump together) in the cold and may cause inflammation and organ damage. However, these proteins can also be present in low levels in the blood without causing any symptoms. When there are symptoms due to the cryoglobulins, the disease (usually a special rash) is called "cryoglobulinemia."

What causes cryoglobulinemia?

Cryoglobulinemia can be present alone ("idiopathic") or can be associated with other diseases such as:

What are the symptoms of cryoglobulinemia?

Most people with cryoglobulins have no symptoms other than elevated levels on specially ordered lab tests. When symptoms are present, they are most commonly fatigue, joint pain, numbness or weakness, and a particular rash called purpura 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," but Raynaud's is very common in persons without cryoglobulinemia.
  • Weight loss
  • High blood pressure
  • Swelling of ankles and legs
  • Skin ulcers and gangrene
  • Enlarged liver or spleen
  • Numbness, tingling or weakness of hands or feet
  • Kidney damage

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