June is Antiphospholipd Antibody Awareness Month. But, what is Antiphospholipid Antibody Syndrome, anyway?
If you’ve never heard of Antiphospholipd Antibody Syndrome (or APS), you are not alone although, the disease is not as uncommon as you may think – as people are tested for different blood clotting disorders after a clotting incident, more and more people are being found to have APS. Women are more likely than men to be affected by APS. Some estimates say that 75% to 90% of those affected are women and while APS is believed to be responsible as the cause of multiple miscarriages, thrombosis, young strokes (up to one third of people under 50) and heart attacks, it is rarely discussed as a relevant health issue, particularly for women. Still, just about 1% of the U.S. population is believed to have APS making it a rare and sometimes ignored condition.
So, what is it exactly? Antiphospholipid Antibody Syndrome is an autoimmune disorder in which the body recognizes certain normal components of blood and/or cell membranes as foreign substances and produces antibodies against them. Antibodies are proteins in the blood and body fluids that bind to foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses and help the immune system destroy and remove them. Sometimes the immune system doesn’t function properly and makes antibodies against normal organs and tissues in the body or, in the case of APS, proteins in the blood. There are two known forms of APS. APS may occur in people with systemic lupus or other autoimmune disease, or in otherwise healthy individuals (Source: //apsfa.org)
In people with APS, blood basically clots when it shouldn’t creating the potential for serious side effects such as DVT, PE, heart attack, stroke, aneurysm, etc. Women with APS may have difficulties with pregnancy. During pregnancy, women are at higher risk of developing blood clots and preeclampsia (high blood pressure). In APS, pregnancies are often lost because blood clots form in the placenta and starve the baby of nutrition. Some women may have trouble getting pregnant, while others may experience repeated miscarriages. Blood clots that develop in the placenta can cause fetal growth problems, fetal distress, premature birth, or pregnancy loss. Expert care and close monitoring of the pregnancy is essential by a doctor knowledgeable about APS or high-risk OBGYN (Source: //apsfa.org).
APS is a lifelong disease, of which there is currently no cure. In general patients who have had a blood clot (i.e., stroke, heart attack, DVT, PE) and have persistently positive tests for antiphospholipid antibodies should be treated with anticoagulants (such as Warfarin) indefinitely. Discontinuing treatment after a fixed period of time, such as six months, is common after a clotting incident, but may be quite dangerous in APS patients. In some patients with a history of blood clots, antiphospholipid antibodies may disappear after a certain period of time, making them hard to detect during routine lab tests. It is not known whether it is safe to stop anticoagulation in this situation of transient antibodies. Consultation with a doctor experienced in treating APS, often a hematologist, is recommended for the treatment of APS (Source: //apsfa.org).
APS is not only a difficult disease to understand, but difficult to explain to others as well. A person with APS may look exactly like they did before – on the outside. But, he or she is struggling internally with a disease that always has the potential to cause serious and life-threatening complications. That is not to say people with APS have to stop living normal lives, it just means they must be aware of what is going on in their body including paying attention to symptoms of potential blood clots, taking medication regularly as prescribed, following up with a doctor or specialist as recommended and taking care of oneself.
In terms of autoimmune diseases, APS is actually one of the more common ones, but is often not tested for or misdiagnosed by physicians. If you have suffered a clotting incident, please make sure the hospital (or your doctor) checks for things like autoimmune and hereditary clotting factors.
I was diagnosed with APS after my PE, thanks to the persistence of one hematologist who would not settle for birth control being the only contributor to my blood clots. After my diagnosis, I remember being very confused and unable to comprehend what the doctor was telling me. As time has gone on, I have found connecting with others has been the most valuable form of healing for me. I have also sought out as much information about APS as I can and while resources are limited at the present time, there are some organizations out there dedicated to raising awareness and spreading information about APS and other blood disorders. You can find my list of helpful resources below-
Resources for People Diagnosed with APS
- APS Foundation of America, Inc. – Founded in 2005, The APS Foundation of America, Inc. (APSFA) is the leading United States nonprofit health agency dedicated to bringing national awareness to Antiphospholipid Antibody Syndrome (APS).
- Antiphospholipid Syndrome Facebook Support Group – Antiphospholipid syndrome (or antiphospholipid antibody syndrome) (APS) is a disorder of coagulation, which causes blood clots (thrombosis) in both arteries and veins, as well as pregnancy-related complications such as miscarriage, preterm delivery, or severe preeclampsia. The syndrome occurs due to the autoimmune production of antiphospholipid antibodies (aPL). The name Antiphospholipid Syndrome is a misnomer because the target antigen of aPL is not phospholipids but actually plasma proteins that bind to phopholipids (eg: [[β2-glycoprotein 1]] or prothrombin). This is an open support group where we come together to talk about it.
Share your story. Have you been diagnosed with APS? Have you ever heard of APS? What is most troubling or interesting to you about the disease? Has APS changed the way you live your life?
There is hope for healing and you are not alone,