Cryoglobulinemia (which literally means “cold antibody in the blood”) refers to chemical properties of the antibodies that cause this disease. Cryoglobulins are antibodies that precipitate, or clump together, under cold conditions. People with cryoglobulinemia experience the characteristic symptoms – paleness, numbness, and pain in extremities, bleeding under the skin, and joint pain — when exposed to cold weather.

There are several different types of cryoglobulins; each type is associated with different diseases and disorders, which may include cancer involving white blood cells, infections, autoimmune disorders, rheumatic diseases, vasculitis, kidney disease, hepatitis C virus infection, and peripheral neuropathy. More than 90% of people with cryoglobulinemia also have a hepatitis C infection. Hepatitis C virus infection is primarily acquired by needle sharing and tainted blood products, and only rarely transmitted sexually. Treatment of the underlying hepatitis C virus infection may be an effective therapy for an associated peripheral neuropathy.

Symptoms & Signs

(Not all symptoms and signs may be present.)

Symptoms are prevalent in cold weather.

  • Blanching, pain, numbness in fingers and toes (Raynaud’s phenomenon)
  • Bleeding under the skin (purpura)
  • General weakness
  • Joint pain

For peripheral neuropathy:

  • Pain, numbness or tingling in the hands or feet

Evaluation & Tests

(Not all evaluation and tests may be necessary.)

For peripheral neuropathy:

For cryoglobulinemia:

  • Blood tests (including tests for hepatitis C virus and hepatitis C antibody and for presence of rheumatoid factor antibody)
  • Liver function tests

Treatment & Therapy

(Not all treatments and therapies may be indicated.)

For cryoglobulinemia:

For peripheral neuropathy:

  • Discontinue drugs that cause peripheral neuropathy
  • Pain medication
  • Institute non-drug treatments to reduce pain, such as:
    • Avoiding extended periods of standing or walking
    • Wearing looser shoes
    • Take safety measures to compensate for loss of sensation
    • Ask your doctor about special therapeutic shoes (which may be covered by Medicare and other insurance)

Did You Know?

Peripheral Neuropathy affects an estimated 30 million Americans and countless more worldwide.

The Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy is a non-profit organization whose mission is to improve the lives of people living with peripheral neuropathy.