Cryoglobulinemia is the presence of abnormal proteins in the blood. These abnormal proteins become thick or gel-like in cold temperatures. Cryoglobulins are antibodies. It is not known why they become solid at low temperatures. When they do thicken or become somewhat gel-like, they can block blood vessels throughout the body. This may lead to complications ranging from skin rashes to kidney failure.
Cryoglobulinemia is part of a group of diseases that cause vasculitis (damage and inflammation of the blood vessels throughout the body). The disorder is grouped into three main types, depending on the type of antibody that is produced: Cryoglobulinemia type I; Cryoglobulinemia type II; Cryoglobulinemia type III. Type I Cryoglobulinemia is most often related to cancer of the blood or immune systems. Types II and III are most often found in people who have a chronic (long-lasting) inflammatory condition, such as an autoimmune disease.
Symptoms vary depending on the type of cryoglobulinemia and the organs that are affected. In general, symptoms may include, difficulty breathing, fatigue, joint pain, muscle pain and skin ulceration.
Treatment of mild or moderate cryoglobulinemia depends on the underlying cause. Treating the cause will often treat the cryoglobulinemia. Mild cases can be treated by avoiding cold temperatures.
Severe cryoglobulinemia is treated with corticosteroids and other medications that suppress the immune system.