Cryoglobulins are abnormal proteins in the blood. If you have cryoglobulinemia (kri-oh-glob-u-lih-NE-me-uh), these cryoglobulins clump together, causing the plasma to become thick like maple syrup and deposit clumps in blood vessels. This limits blood flow, increasing the risk of blood clots, blocked arteries, and damage to your skin, joints, muscles, nerves, kidneys and liver. The course of the disease will vary, depending on the severity. Symptoms may come and go. For some people, cold temperatures may cause flare-ups.

The cause of cryoglobulinemia is not known, but it may be associated with other diseases, such as liver disease, infection, connective tissue disease, multiple myeloma or lymphoma, or hepatitis C virus infection. Cryoglobulinemia may be an autoimmune disorder.

  • Expertise and experience. Mayo Clinic doctors have a worldwide reputation for diagnosis and treatment of rare blood disorders, including cryoglobulinemia. Mayo specialists have been treating cryoglobulinemia for decades, attracting one of the largest patient populations with this disease.
  • Team approach. A multispecialty team of experts works together to develop a treatment plan based on your needs. Your treatment team may include specialists from hematology, rheumatology, gastroenterology, neurology, nephrology and other areas as needed.

Diagnosis

Your doctor makes a diagnosis of cryoglobulinemia after doing a thorough history and physical exam and getting results from your blood and urine tests. At times, your doctor may take small samples of tissue (biopsy).

Cryoglobulinemia has many possible signs and symptoms. Most common are weakness, fatigue, joint ache (arthralgia), and red or purple spots (purpura) that occur on your legs or feet. Other signs and symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • High blood pressure
  • Swelling of ankles and legs
  • Numbness, tingling or weakness in the hands or feet
  • Skin ulcers and gangrene
  • Enlarged liver or spleen
  • Abdominal pain

Cryoglobulinemia may also be associated with other diseases, such as Raynaud's disease.

Treatment

Because cryoglobulinemia is rare, there are few standard treatments for symptomatic cryoglobulinemia. The goal of treatment is to limit organ damage. Treatment depends on the type, cause and severity of your symptoms.

  • If you don't have symptoms, your doctor may recommend careful monitoring rather than treatment.
  • If you have mild to moderate symptoms, your doctor may recommend steroids, anti-inflammatory medicines, medicines that suppress your immune system, and sometimes low-dose chemotherapy to control the symptoms.
  • If you have severe symptoms, your doctor may also recommend plasmapheresis. This treatment reduces cryoglobulins by exchanging the blood plasma (which contains much of the cryoglobulins) for donor plasma or a replacement fluid.
  • If you have moderate or severe symptoms, you may also be treated with man-made antibodies (monoclonal antibodies), often in combination with chemotherapy.

At Mayo Clinic, we assemble a team of specialists who take the time to listen and thoroughly understand your health issues and concerns. We tailor the care you receive to your personal health care needs. You can trust our specialists to collaborate and offer you the best possible outcomes, safety and service.

Mayo Clinic is a not-for-profit medical institution that reinvests all earnings into improving medical practice, research and education. We're constantly involved in innovation and medical research, finding solutions to improve your care and quality of life. Your doctor or someone on your medical team is likely involved in research related to your condition.

Our patients tell us that the quality of their interactions, our attention to detail and the efficiency of their visits mean health care — and trusted answers — like they've never experienced.

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Mayo Clinic works with hundreds of insurance companies and is an in-network provider for millions of people. In most cases, Mayo Clinic doesn't require a physician referral. Some insurers require referrals or may have additional requirements for certain medical care. All appointments are prioritized on the basis of medical need.

At Mayo Clinic in Arizona, your cryoglobulinemia is diagnosed and treated by a team that may include specialists from hematology, rheumatology, gastroenterology, neurology, nephrology and other areas as needed.

For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 800-446-2279 (toll-free) 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.

At Mayo Clinic in Florida, your cryoglobulinemia is diagnosed and treated by a team that may include specialists from hematology, rheumatology, gastroenterology, neurology, nephrology and other areas as needed.

For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 904-953-0853 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.

At Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, your cryoglobulinemia is diagnosed and treated by a team that may include specialists from hematology, rheumatology, gastroenterology, neurology, nephrology and other areas as needed.

For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 507-538-3270 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Central time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.

See information on patient services at the three Mayo Clinic locations, including transportation options and lodging.

See a list of publications by Mayo Clinic doctors on cryoglobulinemia on PubMed, a service of the National Library of Medicine.

Nov. 19, 2012