Immunoglobulins are antibodies made by plasma cells. Plasma cells are activated B-cells – a specialised white blood cell which is a vital part of your immune system.
Antibodies are effective at defending the body against bacteria and other microorganisms.
Immunoglobulin infusions may be required for various medical conditions and may be given when your body requires help to fight infections and if your immune system (ability to fight infections) is compromised due to treatment or illness.
The effects of immunoglobulin may be only temporary, unless your body begins to produce enough of its own antibodies.
Where immunoglobulin comes from
Immunoglobulins are found in the liquid part of blood, called plasma. Plasma is collected (mostly by the Red Cross Blood Service) from a variety of donors, and then pooled or mixed together.
The first step in immunoglobulin production is to take blood from a donor, remove all the red cells, white blood cells and platelets, and return these to the donor. The plasma, containing immunoglobulins, is collected and this process is called plasmapheresis. The immunoglobulins are then chemically treated and much of the plasma is removed. This process results in the purification and concentration of antibodies in the final product.
The different types of intravenous immunoglobulin products available are Intragam (from Australian donors), Octogam, and Kiovig (both from European and USA donors).
Receiving a blood product transfusion
Before you accept a blood product transfusion, such as immunoglobulin, it is important your doctor explains both the benefits and the risks to you.
Your doctor prescribes immunoglobulin for you on your medication chart, and states the time it will take to be administered by nursing staff. Immunoglobulin is issued from the hospital, day centre pathology or blood bank.
Prior to receiving any blood product the nurses will check that you are the correct person to receive it. A transfusion of immunoglobulin usually takes several hours.
Reactions to immunoglobulin are possible. Signs that you may be having a transfusion reaction include shortness of breath, palpitations, fever, chills, skin rash, hives, itchiness, headache, and a drop in blood pressure. Transfusions reactions are managed well with antihistamine medications and maybe a steroid. The transfusion will be discontinued until your symptoms cease, and may be restarted at a slower rate and with close supervision. Your nurse will take your blood pressure, pulse and temperature before and several times during the transfusion.
If you have a question at any time before or during a transfusion, ask your health care professional.
www.transfusion.com.au (Australian Red Cross)
www.primaryimmune.org (Immune Deficiency Foundation)