Hypogammaglobulinemia describes low levels of immunoglobulins in your body. Immunoglobulins are antibodies that fight germs like viruses and bacteria that can make you sick. Having low levels may increase your risk of infections and other diseases. Antibiotics, immunoglobulin replacement therapy and stem cell transplant are potential treatments.
Hypogammaglobulinemia means having low levels of antibodies called immunoglobulins in your immune system. Your immune system protects you from germs like viruses and bacteria that can make you sick. It includes immune cells, like B-cells, that defend you from germs and fight disease. When a germ enters your body, B-cells make immunoglobulins to destroy it.
You may learn that you have hypogammaglobulinemia when you get results from a blood test.
The word provides clues about what’s involved:
Having low levels of immunoglobulins weakens your body’s defenses against invaders. It increases your risk of infections and other illnesses.
Hypogammaglobulinemia can affect both children and adults. There are two main types:
Hypogammaglobulinemia is the most common PIDD. Still, PIDDs are uncommon. Approximately 500,000 people in the U.S. are living with PIDDs.
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The most common sign of hypogammaglobulinemia in children and adults is long-lasting or frequent infections. Symptoms depend on the type of infection. Common infections associated with hypogammaglobulinemia (and commonly associated symptoms) include:
Symptoms also depend on the condition that’s causing low immunoglobulin levels. For example, some types of PIDD may make a child more likely to have allergies. Other types can slow growth and development in children.
Your immune system may not make enough immunoglobulins, or something destroys them. Causes differ depending on whether you have primary or secondary hypogammaglobulinemia.
Some of the PIDDs most commonly associated with hypogammaglobulinemia include:
Other PIDDs that cause primary hypogammaglobulinemia include:
Acquired causes of hypogammaglobulinemia include:
Without treatment, hypogammaglobulinemia can cause severe infections with potentially life-threatening complications. One of the most common complications is bronchiectasis. This condition involves irreversible lung damage. It's common among people with frequent upper respiratory infections.
Hypogammaglobulinemia can also increase your risk of developing:
Healthcare providers use blood tests to measure your immunoglobulin levels. If your levels are below what’s considered normal, you have hypogammaglobulinemia. Your provider will classify your hypogammaglobulinemia as mild, moderate or severe.
To determine what’s causing your low levels, they’ll consider:
You may need more tests, including:
Treatment depends on what’s causing your hypogammaglobulinemia and how serious it is. You may need to see a doctor who specializes in immune diseases (immunologist) for treatment. With secondary causes, healthcare providers usually treat the underlying condition. They may switch your medicine if it’s causing low immunoglobulin levels as a side effect. Primary hypogammaglobulinemia often requires lifelong monitoring to prevent severe infections. Treatment options include:
The conditions that cause hypogammaglobulinemia aren’t preventable. Still, your healthcare provider can recommend treatments to prevent complications.
Hypogammaglobulinemia can be serious depending on what’s causing it and how low your levels are. Immunoglobulins fight harmful pathogens like viruses, bacteria, parasites and fungi. Without these fighters to protect you, you’re at risk of developing frequent and serious infections. Untreated severe infections can cause long-term tissue damage and even be fatal.
It’s essential to have a healthcare provider diagnose what’s causing hypogammaglobulinemia. Early treatment can give you a better chance of being healthy and avoiding complications years from now. If you have a condition that puts you at risk of hypogammaglobulinemia, your healthcare provider will monitor your levels. They can recommend a care plan to prevent serious infections.
Follow your healthcare provider’s guidance on preventing infections. Tips include:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Learning you have low levels of immunoglobulins may make you feel defenseless or vulnerable. These fighters protect you from infection. So, what will happen if they’re not at full strength?
You may have lots of questions. But talking to your healthcare provider is the first step toward learning more about your condition, what’s causing it and how treatments can help. Work with your provider to manage this condition and get the care you need.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/14/2023.
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