Cold Agglutinin Disease

Cold Agglutinin Disease: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

If you or a loved one has, or might have, cold agglutinin disease (CAD), you probably want to know more about it. Below we outline the causes, symptoms and treatments of this condition. 

You’ll get a basic, plain English overview of it here. 

What Is Cold Agglutinin Disease?

So what exactly is it? Cold agglutinin disease is a medical condition in which your body’s immune system attacks and destroys your red blood cells. 

It only affects about 1 in 300,000 people. It’s more common for women and for those over 60.

This condition causes anemia which is when the body is low on red blood cells.This is why CAD is also known as cold antibody hemolytic anemia. 

CAD happens when certain types of antibodies, called cold agglutins, attack your own red blood cells. (They are called cold agglutins because you get them when you have a below normal body temperature.)

If they kill off the red blood cells faster than your body can make new ones, that can lead to anemia. 

Causes of Cold Agglutinin Disease

Sometimes CAD happens by itself. Meaning no other health issues cause it. And, at least for now, we don’t know why it occurs. 

In other situations, there are other health conditions that can lead to CAD. These include: 

  • A virus similar to what causes flu, hepatitis C, or AIDS
  • Parasitic infections such as malaria
  • Medical conditions that cause your immune system to turn against your body
  • Bacterial infections such as Legionnaire’s disease or E. coli
  • Lymphoma and other cancers that affect your blood cells
  • Other health issues that can make the immune system work against your own body

CAD Symptoms

Now that you know what causes CAD, let us move on to the symptoms of the disease. Some of the symptoms of CAD are:

  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness and headaches
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Pale skin
  • Dark urine
  • Jaundice
  • Chest pain
  • Sore back, legs, or joints
  • Ringing in your ears
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Behavioral changes

These symptoms can be triggered or worsened by cold temperatures or viral infections. 

CAD Treatments

One of the simplest treatments is to avoid cold conditions. This may mean bundling up in cold weather (or even when in an air conditioned place). It may also mean avoiding cold foods and beverages. Avoiding the cold can work in situations where the symptoms are mild.

CAD is also treatable through medications. Some medications that can be of use against CAD are:

  • Rituximab
  • Bendamustine
  • Fludarabine

In more severe situations where your blood count is very low, other treatments are available. One of which is filtering your blood to get rid of the harmful antibodies. Another treatment for CAD includes blood transfusion.

These last two options are short term options, however, They do not treat the underlying cause of the issue.