Von Willebrand's disease is the most common bleeding disorder. Von Willebrand's affects women and men alike. The Center for Disease Control estimates that between 1% and 3% of the population of the United State is affected by von Willebrand's disease. The von Willebrand's factor is the factor of the blood system that protects factor VIII, ( the clotting factor). When people are deficient or missing the von Willebrand's factor, factor VIII can weaken and cannot perform its job of clotting blood. This means that when a person bleeds, they bleed longer because the factor VIII is not working properly.
Von Willebrand's disease was discovered in 1925 by Erik von Willebrand's, who described a new type of bleeding disorder in the inhabitants of the Aland Islands. This bleeding disorder affected both men and women. The symptoms were usually mild bleeding from the nose, mouth and intestinal tract. Bruising (bleeding into the skin) is the most common problem with von Willebrand's patients, rather than bleeding into the joints and muscles that is associated with hemophilia patients. Vascular or pseudo hemophilia are older terms associated with von Willebrand's disease.
With laboratory tests, von Willebrand's observed that his patients had an abnormality in blood platelet function. Platelets are "tiny plate-like" cell fragments that help to seal off injured blood vessels by forming aggregates or glue-like cellular plugs. Years later, it was observed that some patients with von Willebrand's disease also had low levels of factor VIII. We now know that their platelets don't behave normally because their plasma lacks von Willebrand's factor. Besides causing the platelets to adhere to damaged blood vessels, von Willebrand's factor serves as a carrier protein for plasma factor VIII. If a person lacks the carrier protein (von Willebrand's factor), factor VIII may be reduced. Together these two proteins are called the "factor VIII molecular complex" and the individual components are important to blood clotting (factor VIII) and platelet adhesion (von Willebrand's factor)
Symptoms of bleeding disorders are: recurrent nosebleeds; easy bruising; heavy or prolonged menstrual flow; bleeding from the digestive tract or urinary tract; unusual bleeding from the mouth or gums. With severe forms of bleeding disorders; bleeding into joints, muscles and even the brain can occur. Bleeding can happen after a surgical procedure, and invasive dental procedure or an injury. It can also be spontaneous and can occur with no apparent cause.
If you suspect that you have a bleeding disorder, you should consult with your doctor. Your doctor will refer you to a hematologist who has the expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of bleeding disorders.
For additional information on bleeding disorders you can contact:
(Hemophilia and von Willebrand's Education Network)
3711 West 12th Street
Erie, PA 16505