Antiphospholipid Syndrome

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

  • Medical Editor: Catherine Burt Driver, MD
    Catherine Burt Driver, MD

    Catherine Burt Driver, MD

    Catherine Burt Driver, MD, is board certified in internal medicine and rheumatology by the American Board of Internal Medicine. Dr. Driver is a member of the American College of Rheumatology. She currently is in active practice in the field of rheumatology in Mission Viejo, Calif., where she is a partner in Mission Internal Medical Group.

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Antiphospholipid syndrome facts

  • Antiphospholipid syndrome is an autoimmune disorder that can affect virtually any organ.
  • Patients with antiphospholipid syndrome can have a variety of antibodies to phospholipids in their blood.
  • Antiphospholipid syndrome involves excessive blood clotting.
  • Each individual patient with the antiphospholipid syndrome is treated uniquely according to what symptoms are present. The mainstay of therapy is anticoagulation.

What is antiphospholipid syndrome? What are antiphospholipid syndrome symptoms and signs?

The antiphospholipid syndrome is a disorder of the immune system that is characterized by excessive clotting of blood and/or certain complications of pregnancy (premature miscarriages, unexplained fetal death, or premature birth) and the presence of antiphospholipid antibodies (such as anti-cardiolipin or lupus anticoagulant antibodies) in the blood. Clotting disorders associated with antiphospholipid syndrome include blood clots deep within the legs (deep venous thrombosis, or DVT) and clots in the lungs (pulmonary embolism, or PE). Patients with antiphospholipid syndrome have both blood clots and antiphospholipid antibodies that are detectable with blood testing.

Antiphospholipid syndrome is also called phospholipid antibody syndrome, cardiolipin antibody syndrome, and Hughes syndrome in honor of the doctor who first described it.

It is important to note that antiphospholipid antibodies can also be found in the blood of individuals without any disease process. In fact, antiphospholipid antibodies have been reported in a small percentage of the normal population. Harmless antiphospholipid antibodies can be detected in the blood for a brief period occasionally in association with a wide variety of conditions, including bacterial, viral (hepatitis and HIV), and parasitic (malaria) infections. Certain drugs can cause antiphospholipid antibodies to be produced in the blood, including antibiotics, cocaine, hydralazine, procainamide, and quinine.

Nevertheless, the antiphospholipid antibodies (a protein) are not considered normal blood proteins and have been found to be associated with a number of illnesses. These illnesses include abnormal clotting (thrombosis) of arteries (stroke and infarction) and/or veins (phlebitis), premature miscarriages (spontaneous abortions), abnormally low blood platelet counts (thrombocytopenia), purplish mottling discoloration of the skin (livedo reticularis), migraine headaches, and a rare form of inflammation of the nervous tissue of the brain or spinal cord called transverse myelitis. Antiphospholipid antibodies have also been detected in over half of patients with the immune disease systemic lupus erythematosus.

Researchers are recently also finding that there are patients with slowly progressive memory problems and patients with a form of "atypical multiple sclerosis" and antiphospholipid antibodies detectable in their blood.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/15/2015

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