Common Variable Immune Deficiency (CVID) is a frequently diagnosed immunodeficiency, especially in adults, characterized by low levels of serum immunoglobulins and antibodies, which causes an increased susceptibility to infection. While CVID is thought to be due to genetic defects, the exact cause of the disorder is unknown in the large majority of cases.
Overview of Common Variable Immune Deficiency
Compared to other human immune defects, CVID is a relatively frequent form of primary immunodeficiency, found in about 1 in 25,000 persons; this is the reason it is called “common.” The degree and type of deficiency of serum immunoglobulins, and the clinical course, varies from patient to patient, hence, the word “variable.” In some patients, there is a decrease in both IgG and IgA; in others, all three major types of immunoglobulins (IgG, IgA and IgM) are decreased. In still others there are defects of the T-cells, and this may also contribute to increased susceptibility to infections as well as autoimmunity, granulomata and tumors.
To be sure that CVID is the correct diagnosis, there must be evidence of a lack of functional antibodies and other possible causes of these immunologic abnormalities must be excluded. Frequent and/or unusual infections may first occur during early childhood, adolescence or adult life. Patients with CVID also have an increased incidence of autoimmune or inflammatory manifestations, granulomata and an increased susceptibility to cancer when compared to the general population. Sometimes it is the presence of one of these other conditions that prompts an evaluation for CVID.
The medical terms for absent or low blood immunoglobulins are agammaglobulinemia and hypogammaglobulinemia, respectively. Due to the late onset of symptoms and diagnosis, other names that have been used in the past include “acquired” agammaglobulinemia, “adult onset” agammaglobulinemia, or “late onset” hypogammaglobulinemia. The term “acquired immunodeficiency” refers to a syndrome caused by the AIDS virus (HIV) and should not be used for individuals with CVID, as these disorders are very different as you will see under the “CVID is mistaken for AIDS” tab above.