Hereditary angioedema: a broad review for clinicians

U C Nzeako, E Frigas, W J Tremaine
Archives of Internal Medicine 2001 November 12, 161 (20): 2417-29
Hereditary angioedema (HAE) is an autosomal dominant disease that afflicts 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 150,000 persons; HAE has been reported in all races, and no sex predominance has been found. It manifests as recurrent attacks of intense, massive, localized edema without concomitant pruritus, often resulting from one of several known triggers. However, attacks can occur in the absence of any identifiable initiating event. Historically, 2 types of HAE have been described. However, a variant, possibly X-linked, inherited angioedema has recently been described, and tentatively it has been named "type 3" HAE. Signs and symptoms are identical in all types of HAE. Skin and visceral organs may be involved by the typically massive local edema. The most commonly involved viscera are the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems. Involvement of the upper airways can result in severe life-threatening symptoms, including the risk of asphyxiation, unless appropriate interventions are taken. Quantitative and functional analyses of C1 esterase inhibitor and complement components C4 and C1q should be performed when HAE is suspected. Acute exacerbations of the disease should be treated with intravenous purified C1 esterase inhibitor concentrate, where available. Intravenous administration of fresh frozen plasma is also useful in acute HAE; however, it occasionally exacerbates symptoms. Corticosteroids, antihistamines, and epinephrine can be useful adjuncts but typically are not efficacious in aborting acute attacks. Prophylactic management involves long-term use of attenuated androgens or antifibrinolytic agents. Clinicians should keep this disorder in their differential diagnosis of unexplained, episodic cutaneous angioedema or abdominal pain.

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