Medical Definition of Essential mixed cryoglobulinemia

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Essential mixed cryoglobulinemia: A condition in which cryoglobulin proteins which are a mixture of various antibody types form for unknown (essential) reasons.

Cryoglobulins are abnormal blood proteins that, by definition, have the unusual properties of precipitating from the blood serum (no longer being able to dissolve in the blood) when it is chilled (hence the "cryo-") and redissolving upon rewarming. Cryoglobulins are gamma globulins with a molecular weight of approximately 200,000.

Cryoglobulins can cause problems by causing:

  • The blood to be abnormally "thick" which increases the risk of blood clots forming in the brain (stroke), eyes, and heart.
  • Inflammation of blood vessels (vasculitis) which increases the risk of blockage of arteries.

Essential mixed cryoglobulinemia is characterized by joint pains and swelling (arthritis), enlargement of the spleen, inflammation of skin blood vessels (vasculitis) with purplish patches, and nerve, kidney and heart disease.

Treatment is with medications which reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system. Plasmapheresis, in which the blood's serum is replaced with saline (salt water solution) or cryoglobulin depleted plasma (cryofiltration), may be done in severe cases.

Cryoglobulinemia can also accompany another disease such as multiple myeloma, dermatomyositis, or lymphoma.

Sometimes, small amounts of cryoglobulins are discovered by accident in the lab in a serum sample from someone with no apparent symptoms.

Reviewed on 12/11/2018

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