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Von Willebrand disease

Von Willebrand disease is a condition that can cause extended or excessive bleeding. The condition is most often inherited but in rare cases may develop later in life.

The cause of von Willebrand disease is a deficiency in or impairment of a protein called von Willebrand factor, an important component in your blood-clotting process. In general, it takes longer for people with von Willebrand disease to form clots and stop bleeding when they're cut.

Treatment of von Willebrand disease focuses on stopping or preventing bleeding episodes, typically by using medications. With the right treatment, most people with von Willebrand disease can lead relatively normal, healthy lives.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

In many people with von Willebrand disease (vWD), the signs are mild or they may be absent altogether. When signs occur, their intensity can vary from one person to another. Von Willebrand disease is often challenging to diagnose, especially in milder cases.

Abnormal bleeding is the most common sign of von Willebrand disease, although it may be present at only moderate levels.

The abnormal bleeding associated with von Willebrand disease may occur as:

  • Recurrent and prolonged nosebleeds
  • Bleeding from the gums
  • Increased menstrual flow
  • Excessive bleeding from a cut or following a tooth extraction or other dental procedure
  • Blood in the stool or urine
  • Bleeding from shaving with a razor or other similarly minor injury

People with von Willebrand disease may also experience:

  • Easy bruising
  • Bruises with lumps that form underneath the skin

Some people may realize that they have a bleeding disorder only after a surgical procedure or serious trauma in which excessive bleeding occurs.

Signs and symptoms of von Willebrand disease in women

Heavy menstrual bleeding is often the main sign of von Willebrand disease in women. However, women with von Willebrand disease may go undiagnosed because they're not overly concerned about their prolonged or heavy menstrual bleeding. And doctors may overlook heavy menstrual bleeding as a possible indicator of von Willebrand disease.

Signs and symptoms of an abnormally heavy period that may indicate von Willebrand disease include:

  • The presence in your menstrual flow of blood clots greater than 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) in diameter
  • The need to change your menstrual pad or tampon more often than hourly
  • The need to use double sanitary protection to control menstrual flow
  • Symptoms of anemia, including tiredness, fatigue or shortness of breath

When to see a doctor

Contact your doctor if you're experiencing extended or severe bleeding from any source.

If you're scheduled to have surgery (including dental procedures), make sure your doctor or dentist knows that you have von Willebrand disease, which can increase the likelihood of postsurgical bleeding. Also be sure to mention if anyone in your family has a history of excessive bleeding.

Consider wearing a medical ID bracelet noting that you have von Willebrand disease in case you are in an accident and are taken to an emergency room. Also carry a medical alert card in your wallet.

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