Antiphospholipid syndrome is a type of autoimmune disorder that can result in potentially serious blood clots. A person who has antiphospholipid syndrome may experience a range of symptoms, depending on where in the body clotting occurs and the severity of the blockage. It is possible for a person to suffer from deep vein thrombosis, kidney failure or a stroke as the result of an untreated blood clot. The condition is especially prevalent during pregnancy, often leading to miscarriages or other complications.
The underlying cause of antiphospholipid syndrome is the presence of abnormal blood proteins, called phospholipid antibodies, that impair the body's ability to regulate blood flow. Doctors are generally unsure why such proteins develop, though many potential risk factors have been identified. People who suffer from other autoimmune disorders, including lupus, are at an increased risk of developing antiphospholipid syndrome. Some studies suggest that certain blood pressure medications, infectious diseases, and genetic factors may also contribute to the disorder. In many instances, doctors are unable to identify an underlying disease or medical problem.
A person who has antiphospholipid syndrome does not typically notice adverse physical symptoms until a clot begins to form. Clotting is most common in large leg veins, which can lead to localized pain, swelling, and skin redness. A blood clot in the lung can severely limit respiratory function and cause a person to lose consciousness. If the condition affects blood flow to the brain, an individual may experience headaches, facial numbness, and other signs of an impending stroke. Pregnant women who have antiphospholipid syndrome may notice abnormal bleeding during the first few weeks of gestation, and babies are often spontaneously aborted in the second or third trimester.
When primary care doctors or obstetricians suspect antiphospholipid syndrome, they can collect blood samples for laboratory analysis. The presence of phospholipid antibodies in a sample is a clear indication of the disorder. After making a diagnosis, a doctor typically conducts additional tests to look for an underlying cause and determine the severity of existing clots.
A patient who does not have a life-threatening clot is usually given aspirin or a specialized anticoagulant medication to help prevent future instances of clotting. Since these medications thin the blood and disrupt the body's ability to stop bleeding from wounds, doctors generally suggest that patients avoid activities that can result in accidental cuts or internal injuries. A person who is suffering from health problems related to a clot may need to be hospitalized and undergo surgery to prevent fatal complications.