What is Intravenous Immunoglobulin?

Lucinda Reynolds

Intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) is a specific component of the blood that is pooled from hundreds of different blood donors. This blood product is delivered to an individual through a small catheter that is inserted into a vein. Immunoglobulins are blood proteins that help fight infection. These proteins are also known as antibodies.

Intravenous immunoglobulin is given to patients to help fight infections.
Intravenous immunoglobulin is given to patients to help fight infections.

In a healthy immune system, antibodies are produced in response to foreign substances known as antigens. These antigens may be bacteria or viruses that can make an individual sick. The body can develop a specific type of antibody that will target and destroy the source of the infection. Intravenous immunoglobulin is used when an individual has a disorder that interferes with the normal immune system response.

This blood product is an effective autoimmune disease treatment. An autoimmune disorder is when the body's immune system is overactive and attacks its own healthy tissue cells. Those individuals who have an autoimmune disorder lack a specific component in their blood that can determine the difference between normal tissue cells and an invading foreign substance. Intravenous immunoglobulin can supply these individuals with the missing blood component to help ease the symptoms of an autoimmune disorder.

IVIG is an effective immune deficiency treatment. There are individuals who may have a disorder that prevents their immune system from manufacturing antibodies in the presence of an infection. If all other treatments for this immune deficiency disorder have failed the doctor may order intravenous immunoglobulin to help replace the missing antibodies. The hope is that an administration of IVIG will help the body fight off existing and future infections.

There are a few risks associated with intravenous immunoglobulin. Since IVIG is usually administered through a small catheter that is inserted into a vein, there is a risk of infection at the insertion site. It is common to develop a headache during or soon after the infusion. This headache can be accompanied by a stiff neck and sometimes a fever. These symptoms can be prevented by infusing intravenous immunoglobulin very slowly.

When intravenous immunoglobulin is being administered through the vein it can put a strain on the heart and kidneys. If an individual has heart problems or kidney problems he must be monitored closely during the infusion. Some people can develop an allergic reaction to IVIG. This allergic reaction can be life- threatening, and it may require immediate medical intervention.

Treatment with IVIG is usually given in cycles over five to six hours each. For those who are being treated for an infection or an immune deficiency this treatment may be administered every three to four weeks. For those who are receiving IVIG for autoimmune disease treatment it may be administered five times per month for three to six months.

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