This rare autoimmune disorder causes recurring blood clots, also called thromboses. These can develop in any blood vessel in the body, including the veins, and can lead to serious problems. The symptoms a person will experience and the severity of the syndrome depends on the individual. It hinges on the exact location of the blood vessel and the organ or organs that are affected. Primary Antiphospholipid Syndrome is an isolated disorder. The disorder is referred to as Secondary Antiphospholipid Syndrome when it occurs alongside other autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus. Both syndromes affect more women than men.
Both disorders are marked by the presence of antiphospholipid antibodies in the system. The purpose of antibodies is to fight infection from bacteria and viruses in the body. With antiphospholipid syndrome, the antibodies mistakenly attack the body’s healthy tissues. These antibodies attack certain proteins that bind to phospholipids (fat molecules that contain phosphorous and aid in the proper functioning of cell membranes). The reason that these attacks and resulting blood clots occur is unknown.
Antiphospholipid Syndrome is also known as Hughes’ Syndrome and “sticky blood syndrome,” because of its tendency to cause blood clots. It can cause one-time or repeated clots in the legs, referred to as deep vein thrombosis. This can cause painful swelling in the legs, often starting in the calves. Clots that form in the arteries that supply the brain can lead to stroke. This disorder can also affect pregnant women, causing the formation of clots in the placenta. This can lead to an increased risk of miscarriage, most often in the middle of the pregnancy. Other problems during pregnancy can be early delivery and pre-eclampsia.
Clots that develop in the lungs are called pulmonary embolus. This type of clot usually originates in the leg and breaks off, traveling and lodging in part of the blood supply to the lung. These kinds of clots can cause shortness of breath and chest pain. People may also cough up blood. Veins in other parts of the body may develop clots, including the eyes, kidneys, liver and adrenal glands.
In addition to stroke, clots in the arteries can also cause heart attacks. Blood supply to the limbs can be cut off, possible leading to gangrene. Arterial diseases like this usually happen in older people as a result of atherosclerosis. In primary antiphospholipid syndrome, these arterial diseases can happen in people who are much younger.
Some people with the syndrome report having recurring headaches, sometimes migraines. Memory loss, epilepsy and sudden jerky movements may also occur. A simple blood test can determine the presence of antiphospholipid antibodies in the system. Additional blood tests can look for underlying conditions. Anticoagulant medications are a preferred treatment to thin the blood and reduce the chance of clotting.