What is immunoglobulin?

Immunoglobulin is a mixture of blood proteins, also known as antibodies, that are made by the immune system to fight infection. Immunoglobulin products are purified from the plasma of blood donations and are used to treat a variety of medical conditions.

Who needs immunoglobulin?

There are a number of reasons why your doctor may recommend treatment with immunoglobulin.

  1. Replacement  - immunoglobulin can be used to help the immune system when it is not making enough antibody of its own to fight infection.

  2. Inflammation – immunoglobulin can be used to help reduce certain types of inflammatory disease. This often requires higher dose treatment than replacement.

Your doctor or nurse will discuss why this treatment is being recommended for you.

How is immunoglobulin given?

Immunoglobulin is given either by a drip into the vein or by infusion under the skin.

Intravenous administration, also called IVIG, is usually given every 3 weeks in a hospital day ward. An intravenous infusion will take between two to four hours to complete.

Subcutaneous administration is becoming increasingly popular, especially for small children or those with ‘difficult’ veins. It is given by weekly infusion under the skin lasting 45 – 90 minutes.

If long term treatment is required, immunoglobulin can in some instances be received at home. You may wish to ask about this.

What about the side effects?

Like all medications, immunoglobulin can cause side effects. Thankfully, problems are usually mild. You may be more likely to have side effects if you receive immunoglobulin while you have an infection or if you are receiving a very high dose. In deciding whether to commence immunoglobulin treatment, these and other potential side effects will have been discussed.  Let a doctor or a nurse know if you have been feeling sick before starting any infusion.
 

During / soon after the infusion

Headache, temperature, muscle pain and low back pain and symptoms similar to flu can occur. These are usually mild and may only require paracetamol or a slowing of the rate of infusion.

Allergic reactions can occur. These include skin rashes and more severe reactions. They are usually mild and may require treatment with an antihistamine. Anaphylaxis can occur but this is very rare.

Local skin swelling occurs with subcutaneous immunoglobulin. This is simply due to fluid accumulation and resolves over 24 hours.
 

Very rare side effects

Very occasionally, kidney problems, blood clots and a very rare form of meningitis, not caused by bacteria may occur as a complication of tretament. As immunoglobulin is a pharmaceutical product derived from blood donations, stringent steps are taken in its preparation and manufacture to prevent blood borne viral transmission.