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 a 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.