From Josep Font Laboratory of Autoimmune Diseases (SR, CDL, AB, PBZ, MEG, MRC) and Vasculitis Research Unit (MCC), Department of Autoimmune Diseases; Department of Internal Medicine (XB); Department of Immunology (JY); and Viral Hepatitis Unit (XF), Department of Hepatology; CIBERehd, Hospital Clínic, University of Barcelona, Institut d'Investigacions Biomèdiques August Pi i Sunyer (IDIBAPS), Barcelona, Spain.
Cryoglobulinemia is characterized by a wide range of causes, symptoms, and outcomes. Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is detected in 30%-100% of patients with cryoglobulins. Although more than half the patients with cryoglobulinemic vasculitis present a relatively benign clinical course, some may present with potentially life-threatening situations. We conducted the current study to analyze the clinical characteristics and outcomes of HCV patients presenting with life-threatening cryoglobulinemic vasculitis. We evaluated 181 admissions from 89 HCV patients diagnosed with cryoglobulinemic vasculitis consecutively admitted to our department between 1995 and 2010. In addition, we performed a systematic analysis of cases reported to date through a MEDLINE search.The following organ involvements were considered to be potentially life-threatening in HCV patients with cryoglobulinemic vasculitis: cryoglobulinemic, biopsy-proven glomerulonephritis presenting with renal failure; gastrointestinal vasculitis; pulmonary hemorrhage; central nervous system (CNS) involvement; and myocardial involvement. A total of 279 patients (30 from our department and 249 from the literature search) fulfilled the inclusion criteria: 205 presented with renal failure, 45 with gastrointestinal vasculitis, 38 with CNS involvement, 18 with pulmonary hemorrhage, and 3 with myocardial involvement; 30 patients presented with more than 1 life-threatening cryoglobulinemic manifestation. There were 146 (52%) women and 133 (48%) men, with a mean age at diagnosis of cryoglobulinemia of 54 years (range, 25-87 yr) and a mean age at life-threatening involvement of 55 years (range, 25-87 yr). In 232 (83%) patients, life-threatening involvement was the first clinical manifestation of cryoglobulinemia. Severe involvement appeared a mean of 1.2 years (range, 1-11 yr) after the diagnosis of cryoglobulinemic vasculitis. Patients were followed for a mean of 14 months (range, 3-120 mo) after the diagnosis of life-threatening cryoglobulinemia. Sixty-three patients (22%) died. The main cause of death was sepsis (42%) in patients with glomerulonephritis, and cryoglobulinemic vasculitis itself in patients with gastrointestinal, pulmonary, and CNS involvement (60%, 57%, and 62%, respectively). In conclusion, HCV-related cryoglobulinemia may result in progressive (renal involvement) or acute (pulmonary hemorrhage, gastrointestinal ischemia, CNS involvement) life-threatening organ damage. The mortality rate of these manifestations ranges between 20% and 80%. Unfortunately, this may be the first cryoglobulinemic involvement in almost two-thirds of cases, highlighting the complex management and very elevated mortality of these cases.