Antiphospholipid (AN-te-fos-fo-LIP-id) syndrome occurs when your immune system attacks some of the normal proteins in your blood. It can cause blood clots in your arteries or veins. And it can cause pregnancy complications, such as miscarriage and stillbirth.
Blood clots in your leg veins cause a condition known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Damage from blood clots in your organs, such as your kidneys, lungs or brain, depends on the extent and location of the clot. For instance, a clot in your brain can cause a stroke.
There's no cure for antiphospholipid syndrome, but medications can reduce your risk of blood clots.
Signs and symptoms of antiphospholipid syndrome can include:
Less common signs and symptoms include:
Bleeding. Some people have a decrease in blood cells needed for clotting (platelets). If you have this condition (thrombocytopenia), you might have few or no symptoms.
However, if your platelet count drops too low, you might 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).
If you have another autoimmune condition, talk to your doctor about whether you should be tested for antiphospholipid antibodies.
Other reasons to contact your doctor include:
Vaginal spotting or bleeding during pregnancy. This can be a sign of miscarriage or other pregnancy problems. However, many women who spot or bleed have a healthy pregnancy.
If you've had pregnancy losses or unexplained severe complications of pregnancy, talk to your doctor about getting tested.
If you have antiphospholipid syndrome and you're thinking about getting pregnant, ask your doctor what treatments are available during your pregnancy.
Seek emergency care if you have signs and symptoms of:
In antiphospholipid syndrome, your blood clots abnormally because your body mistakenly produces antibodies that attack phospholipids, a type of fat that plays a key role in clotting. Antibodies are proteins that normally protect the body against invaders, such as viruses and bacteria.
You can have antiphospholipid antibodies, but you'll be diagnosed with the syndrome only if they cause health problems. Antiphospholipid syndrome can be caused by an underlying condition, such as an autoimmune disorder, infection or certain medications, or you can develop the syndrome without an underlying cause.
If you have one or more episodes of thrombosis or pregnancy loss that aren't explained by known health conditions, your doctor can schedule blood tests to check for abnormal clotting and for the presence of antibodies to phospholipids.
To confirm a diagnosis of antiphospholipid syndrome, the antibodies must appear in your blood at least twice, in tests conducted 12 or more weeks apart.
Depending on which organ is affected by a blood clot and how severe the obstruction of blood flow to that organ is, untreated antiphospholipid syndrome can lead to permanent organ damage or death. Complications include:
Rarely, a person can have repeated clotting events in a short time, leading to progressive damage in multiple organs (catastrophic antiphospholipid syndrome).
Depending on your treatment plan for antiphospholipid syndrome, there are additional steps you can take to protect your health.
Take extra care to keep from injuring yourself and to avoid bleeding.
Certain foods and medications may affect how well your anticoagulants work. Ask your doctor for guidance about:
Safe dietary choices. Vitamin K can lessen the effectiveness of warfarin, but not other anticoagulants. Eating small amounts of vitamin K-rich foods might not be harmful, but avoid eating large amounts of avocado, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, leafy greens and garbanzo beans.
On the other hand, cranberry juice and alcohol can increase warfarin's blood-thinning effect. Ask your doctor if you need to limit or avoid these drinks.
Antiphospholipid syndrome affects women much more than it does men. Other risk factors include:
It's possible to have the antibodies associated with antiphospholipid syndrome without developing signs or symptoms. However, having these antibodies increases your risk of developing blood clots, particularly if you: