Paul Monach, M.D. Boston University explains how cryoglobulinemia affects the blood vessels. Cryoglobulinemia is rare, not well known and can cause serious health issues for those living with the disease.

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What Is Cryoglobulinemia?

Cryoglobulinemia is a disease defined by the presence of cryoglobulins; which are proteins (also called immunoglobulins or antibodies) that become thick in cold temperatures. This process can restrict blood flow causing damage (vasculitis) to skin, joints, muscles, nerves and/or organs. Cryoglobulins are antibodies.  Cryoglobulinemia, in the vast majority of patients, occurs due to Hepatitis C (HCV).  Approximately 90 percent of people with cryo have it due to HCV. Cryoglobulinemia is part of a group of diseases called vasculitis — damage and inflammation of the blood vessels throughout the body. Vasculitis is an inflammation of the blood vessels (vascular = blood vessels, itis = inflammation). Vasculitis can occur as the main disease or as a complication of another disease. Vasculitis may happen as the result of an infection, a medicine, or another disease or condition.

Vasculitis can affect any blood vessel: arteries, veins, and capillaries. Arteries deliver blood from the heart to organs. Veins return blood back to the heart. Capillaries are tiny blood vessels that connect small arteries and veins. When a blood vessel becomes inflamed the vessel can narrow, making it more difficult for blood to get through, close off completely so that blood cannot pass through, stretch and weaken the wall of the vessel causing collapse or necrosis.