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What Is Intravenous Immune Globulin?

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  • Written By: Drue Tibbits
  • Edited By: PJP Schroeder
  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2016
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Intravenous immune globulin, or IVIG, is a medical treatment that uses an antibody-rich solution to treat certain diseases. The solution contains a mix of immunoglobulins, or antibodies, taken from the plasma of over 1,000 blood donors. This treatment is for certain autoimmune diseases and immune disorders and involves infusions of an immunoglobulin solution at repeated intervals until the disease is under control. Some patients require lifelong treatment to maintain disease remission.

Medical professionals administer the immunoglobulins by slow infusion, a method of delivering the solution intravenously over several hours. This process repeats daily over a period of up to five successive or alternate days. Initially, patients receive the infusions every three to four weeks. As the condition responds to treatment, the time between infusions may be as long as several months. Patients receive the infusions under the supervision of medical personnel either at home or in an outpatient setting.

IVIG is an effective treatment for several diseases. Immune disorders include conditions where patients have low antibody levels or antibodies that do not function properly. Patients with these types of disorders are susceptible to disease as their bodies do not have the necessary antibodies to fight off pathogens. Intravenous immune globulin therapy increases the antibody levels in these patients, helping them resist infections.

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Autoimmune diseases are conditions where a patient’s own antibodies attack healthy cells. The antibodies in the immunoglobulins solution bind with specific blood products and help mitigate the autoimmune response. IVIG is also effective for patients with acute infections, where harmful pathogens overwhelm the patient’s normal immune system. The immunoglobulin solution’s antibodies work with the patient’s own antibodies to fight off the infection. In certain cases, IVIG therapy is a preventative measure for patients facing exposure to dangerous viruses or bacteria.

Most patients tolerate intravenous immune globulin therapy well and experience minimal side effects. The most common side effects include headaches, vomiting, and fatigue. Sometimes, switching to a different solution brand eliminates these side effects. IVIG may cause serious side effects, such as anaphylactic shock, pulmonary edema, and acute renal failure.

The intravenous immune globulin therapy is very expensive due in part to the extraction of the antibodies from such a large number of blood donations and the meticulous processing and testing of the solution. Doctors may utilize other treatments before turning to IVIG therapy. Some conditions, however, respond only to IVIG therapy, making it a first-line treatment in some cases.

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