Von Willebrand disease (VWD) is a bleeding disorder. It affects your blood's ability to clot. This can cause heavy, hard-to-stop bleeding after an injury.
In VWD, you either have low levels of a certain protein in your blood or the protein doesn't work the way it should. The protein is called von Willebrand factor. Von Willebrand factor also carries factor VIII.
There are three major types of VWD: type 1, type 2, and type 3.
VWD is almost always inherited. Parents pass the gene for the disorder on to their children. Some people develop a form of VWD later in life as a result of other medical conditions. This form of VWD is called acquired von Willebrand syndrome.
The signs and symptoms of VWD depend on the type and severity of the disorder. Many people have such mild symptoms that they don't know they have the disorder.
Symptoms include frequent large bruises from minor bumps or injuries; frequent or hard-to-stop nosebleeds; heavy bleeding after surgery, dental work, or a cut or other accident; heavy or extended menstrual bleeding in women; blood in your stools or urine; or bleeding in your internal organs and joints.
VWD is sometimes hard to diagnose. Many people don't have major bleeding and aren't diagnosed until they have heavy bleeding after surgery or some other trauma.
Your doctor will diagnose VWD based on your medical history and the results from a physical exam and tests. Early diagnosis is important to make sure you're treated and can live a normal, active life.
Treatments for VWD include medicines and therapies to replace or increase the amount of von Willebrand factor in your blood, prevent the breakdown of clots, and control heavy menstrual bleeding in women.
Women who have VWD also may be treated with oral contraceptives, intrauterine devices, or a procedure that destroys the lining of the uterus, thus reducing menstrual blood loss.
If you have VWD, you can take steps to prevent bleeding and stay healthy. Avoid over-the-counter medicines that can affect blood clotting. Always check with your doctor before taking any medicines. Consider wearing a medical ID bracelet if you have a severe form of VWD. Alert people, such as your dentist, pharmacist, employee health nurse, gym trainer, and sports coach, of your condition.
Pregnancy can be a challenge for women who have VWD. Consult a hematologist and an obstetrician who specialize in high-risk pregnancies before you become pregnant.
If your child has VWD that's severe enough to pose a significant risk of bleeding, anyone who is responsible for him or her should be told about the condition. This will help them handle the situation if your child has an injury.
VWD can't be cured, but it can be treated. With the right treatment, people who have VWD can lead normal, active lives.
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