Cryoglobulins are abnormal antibodies produced by plasma cells Overview of Plasma Cell Disorders Plasma cell disorders are uncommon. They begin when a single plasma cell multiplies excessively. The resulting group of genetically identical cells (called a clone) produces a large quantity... read more and dissolved in the blood. When cooled below normal body temperature, cryoglobulins form large collections of solid particles (precipitates). When warmed to normal body temperature, they re-dissolve.
The formation of cryoglobulins (cryoglobulinemia) is uncommon. In most instances, an underlying disorder causes people to form cryoglobulins. These disorders include cancers such as macroglobulinemia and chronic lymphocytic leukemia Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is usually a slowly progressing disease in which mature-appearing lymphocytes become cancerous and gradually replace normal cells in lymph nodes. People may have... read more , autoimmune disorders such as systemic lupus erythematosus Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) Systemic lupus erythematosus is a chronic autoimmune inflammatory connective tissue disorder that can involve joints, kidneys, skin, mucous membranes, and blood vessel walls. Problems in the... read more (lupus), and infections by such organisms as hepatitis C virus Hepatitis C, Chronic Chronic hepatitis C is inflammation of the liver that is caused by the hepatitis C virus and that has lasted more than 6 months. Hepatitis C often causes no symptoms until after it has badly... read more . Rarely, a cause for the formation of cryoglobulins cannot be found.
Precipitates of cryoglobulins can trigger inflammation of blood vessels (vasculitis Overview of Vasculitis Vasculitic disorders are caused by inflammation of the blood vessels (vasculitis). Vasculitis can be triggered by certain infections or drugs or can occur for unknown reasons. People may have... read more ), which causes various symptoms, such as bruises, joint aches, and weakness. The vasculitis may damage the liver and kidneys. In some people, the damage may progress to liver failure and kidney failure and can be fatal.
People with cryoglobulinemia may also be very sensitive to cold or develop Raynaud syndrome Raynaud Syndrome Raynaud syndrome, a functional peripheral arterial disease, is a condition in which small arteries (arterioles), usually in the fingers or toes, narrow (constrict) more tightly than normal in... read more , in which the hands and feet become very painful and turn white when chilled.
Avoiding cold temperatures helps prevent vasculitis. Treating the underlying disorder may reduce the formation of cryoglobulins. For example, using interferon alpha to treat hepatitis C virus infection helps reduce formation of cryoglobulins. Removal of a large amount of plasma (the liquid part of blood) plus plasma transfusions (plasma exchange Plasma exchange In apheresis, blood is removed from a person and then returned after substances are removed from it. Apheresis can be used to Obtain healthy blood components from a donor to transfuse to a person... read more ) may help, especially when combined with interferon.