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What is Common Variable Immunodeficiency?

D. Jeffress
D. Jeffress

Common variable immunodeficiency is a disorder that is characterized by low levels of immunoglobulin antibodies. Without sufficient antibody production and function, a person's body is highly susceptible to infections. Most cases of common variable immunodeficiency appear to be inherited, and health problems usually begin in the first few years of life. It is possible, however, for people to reach adolescence or early adulthood before the disease starts causing serious problems. The condition cannot be cured, but doctors can provide medications and immunoglobulin injections to help prevent recurring infections.

The immune system produced several different types of antibodies to help fight off infections and illness. People who suffer from common variable immunodeficiency have extremely low levels of one or more particular antibodies. As a result, they are largely defenseless against pathogens. Patients are susceptible to chronic respiratory diseases, sinusitis, ear pain, and urinary tract infections. Many people also have inflammatory bowel disorders, such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. In addition, the disorder increases the likelihood of developing lymphoma and other deadly cancers.

Anatomical model of the human body
Anatomical model of the human body

The causes of common variable immunodeficiency are not well understood, but it is apparent that it is an inheritable disorder. Many children who are diagnosed with the condition have at least one parent or close family member who also suffers from immune system problems. Ongoing genetic research hopes to pinpoint the specific types of mutations and their locations on certain chromosomes that lead to common variable immunodeficiency.

A doctor might decide to test a patient for common variable immunodeficiency if he or she experiences frequent infections. Blood samples are collect and studied in a clinical lab to look for unusual antibody formation and low levels of immunoglobulin. Additional blood and fluid tests are performed to rule out other possible causes of symptoms, such as a specific autoimmune disorder or cancer. The doctor may also decide to perform imaging scans to see if the lungs and other organs have been damaged by repeat infections.

Patients who are diagnosed with common variable immunodeficiency generally need to receive injections of immunoglobulin to help boost their immune systems. Since replacement therapy is only a temporary solution, many people need to receive regular injections throughout their lives. Active infections or respiratory problems are treated with antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, and medications designed to regulate blood pressure. If serious kidney, lung, or heart problems occur as a result of frequent infections, doctors can consider organ transplants.

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    • Anatomical model of the human body
      Anatomical model of the human body