If you have an immunodeficiency related to certain infections, inflammatory diseases, or autoimmune disorders, you may have heard about an infusion treatment called intravenous immunoglobulin, or IVIG.

This therapy is primarily designed for situations where you may not have enough antibodies. An IVIG may also be used if your condition doesn’t respond to immunosuppressing medications.

IVIG is used for several medical conditions, but this treatment also has its own side effects and risks to consider. Read on to learn about the benefits and potential drawbacks of IVIG, and what it’s like to have an IVIG infusion.

IVIG is a therapy used to treat antibody deficiencies related to a variety of inflammatory and immune-mediated diseases. It’s made from antibodies called immunoglobulins, which your immune system typically makes to help fight off infections.

The immunoglobulins in IVIG infusions are derived from thousands of healthy blood plasma donations. These infusions are also purified, making the chances of contracting any blood-borne diseases from donors very low.

Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of IVIG is that, unlike immunosuppressants, these infusions don’t increase your risk of infection.

The overall goal of IVIG therapy is to help restore a severely weakened immune system.

When you have an immunoglobulin deficiency, your immune system can’t produce enough infection-fighting antibodies. This can make you more vulnerable to infections.

Your doctor may also recommend an IVIG infusion to help reduce inflammation. In autoimmune diseases, this therapy can help prevent your immune system from attacking healthy cells.

IVIG may be recommended for infectious, autoimmune, and other inflammatory diseases, such as:

If you’re currently being treated for certain cancers, such as multiple myeloma, lymphoma, or chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), your doctor may also recommend IVIG infusion to help counter the effects of your cancer treatments and reduce your risk of infections.

Can you have an IVIG infusion if you’re pregnant or nursing?

IVIG infusions are considered safe if you’re pregnant or nursing.

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Depending on availability, IVIG may be provided at:

  • an infusion center
  • a doctor’s office
  • an outpatient center
  • in a hospital

IVIG is given via a drip infusion through a vein in your arm. It takes about 3 hours to complete each infusion.

Are IVIG infusions painful?

While the infusion process itself isn’t painful, you may experience pain and discomfort when the needle is inserted into the vein in your arm. Talk with your doctor if you have a history of needle discomfort.

How many infusions will you need?

The number of sessions you need depends on what you’re being treated for. A one-time infusion may be needed for treating Kawasaki’s disease, but most other conditions require an average of one to five infusions per month.

When determining the dosage, your doctor will consider both your body weight and the condition being treated. In most cases, IVIG doses consist of 2 g/kg each session for 2 to 5 consecutive days.

Usually, lower IVIG doses are used in treating immunodeficiencies, while higher doses are reserved for severe inflammation or infectious diseases.

How long does it take before you see results and how long do they last?

When undergoing IVIG treatment, it’s important to be patient, as it may take several weeks to see the full effects. If IVIG infusions work for your condition, the positive effects may last up to a few months at a time.

Talk to your doctor about vaccinations during IVIG treatment

During IVIG treatment, you may not be able to take vaccines because your immune system won’t fully respond to vaccinations as it should. Talk with your doctor about your current vaccination schedule.

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It’s estimated that 5 percent of people experience immediate adverse reactions to IVIG treatment within 30 to 60 minutes of infusion start time.

However, most people who take IVIG do well with these infusions, and may only experience mild side effects, such as:

  • skin irritation at the site of the infusion
  • headaches
  • flushing
  • fever
  • chills
  • nausea
  • muscle aches

To help minimize these side effects, your doctor may recommend taking antihistamines or over-the-counter pain medications.

What are the risks of getting bloodborne infections from IVIG infusions?

The risk of getting bloodborne infections from blood donors used to create IVIG infusions is considered extremely low. This is because of the purification process that donated blood plasma goes through, which helps destroy infectious organisms, such as bacteria and viruses.

Additionally, IVIG donations are kept sealed in sterilized packages once the purification process is complete. This further helps the prevention of infectious disease transmission.

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Rare but serious side effects

A rare, but serious side effect of IVIG therapy is a type of non-infection-related brain inflammation called aseptic meningitis. To help minimize the risk of developing meningitis, your doctor may recommend that you:

  • stay hydrated before, during, and after each treatment
  • take steroid or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or acetaminophen
  • take diphenhydramine (Benadryl)

Other risk factors to consider include:

The risk of severe side effects may also be greater in older adults. It’s thought that this may be attributed to a higher likelihood of comorbidities.

Call your doctor right away if you or a loved one experience any of the following symptoms after receiving an IVIG infusion:

  • breathing difficulties
  • severe, worsening rash
  • high fever
  • severe headaches with neck stiffness
  • nausea and vomiting
  • chest tightness

IVIG infusions may not be appropriate for everyone, due to side effects, comorbidities, or a lack of efficacy.

It’s important to talk with your doctor about the risks and benefits associated with IVIG, as well as possible alternatives to these infusions. Alternative treatments may include:

  • subcutaneous immunoglobulin (SCIG), which consists of immunoglobulin administered underneath your skin instead of intravenously
  • immunosuppressant medications, such as steroids, biologics, and Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors, to help stop your immune system from attacking itself
  • immunomodulators to help suppress your immune system and fight infections

IVIG infusions help provide your immune system with the antibodies it needs to help fight off infections. IVIG infusions can also help decrease inflammation and suppress immune system attacks on healthy cells.

While well-tolerated by most people, IVIG infusions still carry a risk of side effects that you should discuss thoroughly with your doctor. Additionally, it’s important to let your doctor know about any adverse effects you experience during or after receiving an IVIG infusion.

IVIG infusions may work well in some cases, but there are also other alternatives to consider and discuss with your doctor.