Cold winter air may be one of the most uncomfortable weather conditions for a lot of people, but for a woman who lives in New York, the frigid weather has triggered an autoimmune disorder, according to the report released about the case. When you breathe in, your red blood cells carry oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. Then they carry carbon dioxide back to the lungs for you to breathe out. A typical red blood cell lives about 120 days. Your body’s immune system makes proteins called antibodies that help you fight off infections. Some of these antibodies are called cold agglutinins, because they’re triggered when you’re in temperatures between freezing and 50 degrees F. With CAD, those antibodies attach themselves to red blood cells instead of to bacteria or viruses and eventually kill the red blood cells. When they do that faster than your body can replace red blood cells, it leads to a condition called anemia, which is when your body doesn’t have enough red blood cells.
CAD can make you feel weak and tired. Other signs of it include:
- Dizziness and headaches
- Sore back, legs, or joints
- Ringing in your ears
- Irritability or changes in your behavior
- Pale or yellow skin
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Cold feet or hands
- Chest pains or an irregular heartbeat
In women, cold agglutinin disease sometimes keeps them from having periods. Some people who have cold agglutinin disease also may get a cold, numb feeling and loss of color in their fingers or toes, known as Raynaud’s phenomenon. Symptoms are typically worse in the winter, when temperature are lower. Most of the time, cold agglutinin disease happens by itself, without any other related health problem. Doctors call that the primary, or idiopathic, form of the condition, and they don’t know why it happens. In other cases, another illness can bring on cold agglutinin disease. The most common condition that triggers it is lymphoma, a type of cancer that affects your lymph nodes. But it also can happen if you have:
- A bacterial infection like E. coli, syphilis, or Legionnaire’s disease
- A virus, like the ones that cause the flu, hepatitis C, or AIDS
- A parasitic infection like malaria
- Other conditions that cause your immune system to turn on your body
- Other kinds of cancer that affect your blood cells, like multiple myeloma or leukemia
This depends on how serious your symptoms are and whether CAD happened on its own or because of another illness.
- If you have another condition that’s led to CAD, your doctor will try to treat that first and see if it helps your symptoms. For example, if it was brought on by bacteria or a virus, your symptoms may go away a few months after you get over the infection.
2. If your symptoms are mild, you may not need treatment. You may be able to avoid problems by keeping warm and staying out of cold weather.
3. If your red blood cell count is very low, your doctor may need to filter your blood to get rid of the antibodies that are causing your condition (a procedure called plasmapheresis) or give you a blood transfusion. These are short-term treatments that can give you temporary relief, but they don’t do anything about the cause of the problem.
4. If your anemia is severe, you may need to take medication. The most common drug used for CAD is rituximab, a drug that targets certain immune cells. (It was originally made to treat lymphoma.) You’ll probably get a dose once a week for several weeks.