Cold Agglutinins Test

Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Encyclopedia.

Cold Agglutinins Test



The cold agglutinins test is performed to detect the presence of antibodies in blood that are sensitive to temperature changes. Antibodies are proteins produced by the immune system in response to specific disease agents; autoantibodies are antibodies that the body produces against one of its own substances. Cold agglutinins are autoantibodies that cause red blood cells to clump, but only when the blood is cooled below the normal body temperature of 98.6°F (37°C). The clumping is most pronounced at temperatures below 78°F (25.6°C).


The cold agglutinins test is used to confirm the diagnosis of certain diseases that stimulate the body to produce cold agglutinins. The disease most commonly diagnosed by this test is mycoplasmal pneumonia, but mononucleosis, mumps, measles, scarlet fever, some parasitic infections, cirrhosis of the liver, and some types of hemolytic anemia can also cause the formation of cold agglutinins. Hemolytic anemias are conditions in which the blood is low in oxygen because the red blood cells are breaking down at a faster rate than their normal life expectancy of 120 days. In addition to these illnesses, some people have a benign condition called chronic cold agglutinin disease, in which exposure to cold causes temporary clumping of red blood cells and consequent numbness in ears, fingers, and toes.


Since cold agglutinins cause red blood cells to clump only at temperatures lower than 98.6°F (37°C), the test consists of chilling a sample of the patient's blood. There is a bedside version of the test in which the doctor collects four or five drops of blood in a small tube, cools the tube in ice water for 30-60 seconds, and looks for clumping of red blood cells. If the cells clump after chilling and unclump as they rewarm, a cold agglutinin titer (concentration) greater than 1:64 is present. Bedside test results, however, should be confirmed by a laboratory. The laboratory test measures the clumping of red blood cells in different dilutions of the patient's blood serum at 39.2°F (4°C).

Normal results

The results of the cold agglutinins test require a doctor's interpretation. In general, however, a normal value is lower than 1:32.

Key terms

Agglutinin — An antibody that causes red blood cells to stick or clump together.
Antibody — A protein molecule produced by the immune system that is specific to a disease agent, such as Mycoplasma pneumoniae. The antibody combines with the organism and disables it.
Autoantibody — An antibody produced by the body in reaction to any of its own cells or cell products.
Cold agglutinins — Antibodies that cause clumping of red blood cells when the blood temperature falls below normal body temperature (98.6°F/37°C).
Hemolytic anemia — Oxygen deficiency in the blood, caused by shortened survival of red blood cells.
Mycoplasma — A type of free-living microorganism that has no cell wall. Mycoplasmas cause some varieties of pneumonia and urinary tract infections that stimulate the body to produce cold agglutinins.
Titer — The concentration of a substance in a given sample of blood or other tissue fluid.

Abnormal results

Any value higher than 1:32 suggests a diagnosis of mycoplasmal pneumonia or one of the other viral infections or disease conditions indicated by this test.



Dabrow, Michael B., and Thomas G. Gabuzda. "Acquired Hemolytic Anemia." In Current Diagnosis, edited by Rex B. Conn, et al. Vol. 9. Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders Co., 1997.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.