Immunoglobulins are antibodies normally found in the blood. They function as part of the body's defense system, warding off harmful viruses or bacteria that may cause disease. There are several types of immunoglobulins in the blood; IgG is the most abundant and is used to mean "immunoglobulin replacement therapy." Immunoglobulin replacement therapy is administered when a patient's body does not produce enough of the antibody on its own, or when a boost is needed to treat a particular disease.
Benefits of IgG
Immunoglobulin replacement therapy, while not a cure for any illness, is often effective in improving health and decreasing the severity of disease reactions. Also, because of immunoglobulin's anti-infllammatory properties, replacement therapy has been found to be effective in treating some autoimmune disorders, such as myasthenia gravis and Guillain-Barré syndrome.
Immunoglobulin replacement therapy has also been helpful to patients undergoing organ transplantation, both before and after the procedure, in terms of lowering the risk of tissue rejection. This treatment has also proven effective in treating sepsis and septic shock.
Some patients require IgG replacement therapy throughout their lives.
Administration of IgG
When originally used as a treatment in the 1950s, immunoglobulin was injected into the muscle. Since the 1970s, however, immunoglobulin has been administered intravenously, typically over several hours, to decrease the amount of pain experienced by the patient undergoing treatment. Intravenous administration of immunoglobulin typically takes place in a clinical or hospital setting.
In some cases, immunoglobulin is administered subcutaneously (under the skin). This method has the advantages or being even less painful than intravenous administration. It is also more convenient, since the patient can be taught to self-administer the immunoglobulin at home. Subcutaneous administration of IgG is also believed to lead to fewer side effects than other techniques.
Side Effects of IgG
Patients who receive IgG commonly experience flu-like symptoms as side effects, including headache, chills, fever, nausea or body aches. These side effects are generally short-lived and not serious, best treated with mild medications and rest. Drinking plenty of fluids before, during and after the infusion may mitigate these symptoms.
Risks of IgG
While strict safety standards are maintained in processing immunoglobulin, the fact that it is created from human plasma means there is always some small risk of viral infection. In spite of this potential risk, however, for well over a decade there have been no reported cases of disease transmission through IgG.
Other serious reactions to IgG are extremely rare, but may include:
- Kidney failure
- Aseptic meningitis
- Anaphylaxis (serve allergic reaction)
- Blood clots or stroke
In order to minimize the possibility of risk, the physician and pharmacist work together to prepare an emergency kit designed for each individual patient, based on that patient's pre-existing medical conditions and previous reactions to medications.
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