What is it?

Hypogammaglobulinemia is a problem with the immune system in which not enough gamma globulins are produced in the blood. This results in a lower antibody count, which impairs the immune system, increasing risk of infection. Hypogammaglobulinemia may result from a variety of primary genetic immune system defects, such as common variable immunodeficiency. Patients with hypogammaglobulinemia have reduced immune function; important considerations include avoiding use of live vaccines, and take precautionary measures when traveling to regions with endemic disease or poor sanitation such as receiving immunizations, taking antibiotics abroad, drinking only safe or boiled water, arranging appropriate medical cover in advance of travel, and ensuring continuation of any immunoglobulin infusions needed.

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Signs & symptoms

The presenting feature of hypogammaglobulinemia is usually a clinical history of recurrent, chronic, or atypical infections. These infections include but are not limited to: bronchitis, ear infections, meningitis, pneumonia, sinus infections, and skin infections. Such infections can potentially damage organs, leading to severe complications. Other symptoms of hypogammaglobulinemia include chronic diarrhea and complications from receiving live vaccines. Certain symptoms of chronic damage may be related to recurrent infection. For example, shortness of breath, chronic cough, and sputum production may indicate the presence of bronchiectasis. Sinus pain, nasal discharge, and postnasal drip may indicate the presence of chronic sinusitis. Diarrhea and steatorrhea may indicate malabsorption. Another sign or symptom that may occur in patients is blotchiness of the skin color, especially noticed above the waist, on the arms, neck, and upper chest areas, however, it may occur anywhere on the skin.


Screening of immunoglobulin levels in relatives of CVID and IgA patients finds a familial inheritance rate of 10% to 20%. In cases where a carrier of such a mutation would like to have children, preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) has been offered. PGD is defined as the testing of pre-implantation stage embryos or oocytes for genetic defects. It requires in vitro fertilization, embryo biopsy, and either fluorescent in situ hybridization or polymerase chain reaction on a singular cell, making it a complex procedure. While some question the ethicality of such artificial selection, it is generally seen as an important alternative to prenatal diagnosis.


Protocols for different forms of primary immunodeficiency vary significantly. The aim of treatments implemented by specialist centers is usually to reduce the risk of complications. One method of treatment is by parenteral administration of gamma globulins, either monthly intravenously, subcutaneously, or more recently, by weekly self-administered hypodermoclysis. In either case, mild allergic reactions are common, and are usually manageable with oral diphenhydramine. Evidence comparing immunoglobulin replacement with no treatment is limited, and guidelines for treatment are therefore mainly derived from observational studies. Antibiotics are also frequently used as treatment. Other standard forms of treatment include a form of enzyme replacement therapy called PEG-ADA, and antibiotic treatment given for the prevention of Pneumocystis pneumonia.

☝️ This is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult with your physician before making any medical decision.

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