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Antiphospholipid syndrome

Antiphospholipid syndrome occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks some of the normal proteins in your blood. Antiphospholipid syndrome can cause blood clots to form within your arteries or veins. It can also cause pregnancy complications, such as miscarriage and stillbirth.

Antiphospholipid syndrome may cause blood clots to form in your leg veins, a condition known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Antiphospholipid syndrome may also cause blood clots to form in organs such as your kidneys or lungs. Damage depends on the extent and location of the clot. For instance, a clot in your brain can cause stroke.

There's no cure for antiphospholipid syndrome, but medications can be effective in reducing your risk of blood clots.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications

Signs and symptoms of antiphospholipid syndrome may include:

  • Blood clots in your legs (deep vein thrombosis, or DVT) that may travel to your lungs (pulmonary embolism)
  • Repeated miscarriages or stillbirths and other complications of pregnancy, such as premature delivery and high blood pressure during pregnancy (preeclampsia)
  • Stroke
  • Blood clots in the arteries of your arms or legs (peripheral arterial thrombosis)

Other less common signs and symptoms include:

  • Neurological symptoms. Chronic headaches, including migraines, dementia and seizures are possible when a blood clot blocks blood flow to parts of your brain.
  • Rash. Some people develop a red rash with a lacy, net-like pattern (livedo reticularis).
  • Cardiovascular disease. Heart valves can be damaged in people with antiphospholipid syndrome.
  • Bleeding. Some people experience a decrease in platelets, blood cells necessary for normal clotting. If you have this condition (thrombocytopenia), you may have few or no symptoms. However, if your platelet count drops too low, you may have episodes of bleeding, particularly from your nose and gums. You can also bleed into your skin, which will appear as patches of small, red spots (petechiae).

Infrequent signs and symptoms include:

  • Movement disorder, in which your body and limbs jerk uncontrollably (chorea)
  • Cognitive problems, such as poor memory
  • Sudden hearing loss

When to see a doctor

If you already have an autoimmune condition, talk to your doctor about whether you should be tested for antiphospholipid antibodies.

Other reasons to contact your doctor include:

  • Pain or swelling in your leg or arm. See your doctor especially if an area of your leg or arm is red, swollen or tender. Seek emergency care if vein swelling and pain are severe or are accompanied by chest pain or shortness of breath, which could indicate DVT and an increased chance of a blood clot traveling to your lungs (pulmonary embolism).
  • Vaginal spotting or bleeding during pregnancy. This may be a sign of miscarriage or other pregnancy problems. However, many women spot or bleed and are able to have a healthy pregnancy. If you've had repeated pregnancy losses or unexplained severe complications of pregnancy, it could be related to antiphospholipid syndrome. Talk to your doctor about whether testing would be right for you.

If you have antiphospholipid syndrome and you're thinking of attempting pregnancy, treatments are available during your pregnancy. But be sure to seek the care of an expert obstetrical provider to discuss your options.

When it's an emergency

Seek emergency care if you have certain other serious signs and symptoms. Look for:

  • Signs and symptoms of stroke. These include sudden numbness, weakness or paralysis of your face, arm or leg; sudden difficulty speaking or understanding speech; sudden visual disturbances; sudden, severe headache; and dizziness.
  • Signs and symptoms of pulmonary embolism. These include sudden shortness of breath, chest pain and coughing up blood-streaked sputum.
  • Signs and symptoms of deep vein thrombosis. These include the development of leg swelling or pain.
  • Other signs of bleeding. These include unexplained bleeding from your nose or gums; an unusually heavy menstrual cycle; vomit that is bright red or looks like coffee grounds; black, tarry stool or bright red stool; and unexplained abdominal pain.

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