Von Willebrand's disease (vWD) is the most common hereditary coagulation abnormality described in humans. It arises from a qualitative or quantitative deficiency of von Willebrand factor (vWF), a multimeric protein that is required for platelet adhesion. It is known to affect humans and, in veterinary medicine, dogs. more...
The various types of vWD present with varying degrees of bleeding tendency. Severe internal or joint bleeding is rare (only in type 3 vWD); bruising, nosebleeds, heavy menstrual periods (in women) and blood loss during childbirth (rare) may occur.
When suspected, blood plasma of a patient needs to be investigated for quantitative and qualitative deficiencies of vWF. This is achieved by measuring the amount of vWF in a vWF antigen assay and the functionallity of vWF with a glycoprotein (GP)Ib binding assay, a collagen binding assay or, a ristocetin cofactor (RiCof) activity assay. Factor VIII levels are also performed as factor VIII is bound to vWF which protects the factor VIII from rapid break down within the blood. Deficiency of vWF can therefore lead to a reduction in Factor VIII levels. Normal levels do not exclude all forms of vWD: particularly type 2 which may only be revealed by investigating platelet interaction with subendothelium under flow (PAF), a highly specialistic coagulation study not routinely performed in most medical laboratories. A platelet aggregation assay will show an abnormal response to ristocetin with normal responses to the other agonists used. A platelet function assay (PFA) will give an abnormal collagen/adrenaline closure time but a normal collagen/ADP time. Type 2N can only be diagnosed by performing a "factor VIII binding" assay. Detection of vWD is complicated by vWF being an acute phase reactant with levels rising in infection, pregnancy and stress.
Other tests performed in any patient with bleeding problems are a full blood count (especially platelet counts), APTT (activated partial thromboplastin time), prothrombin time, thrombin time and fibrinogen level. Testing for factor IX may also be performed if hemophilia B is suspected. Other coagulation factor assays may be performed depending on the results of a coagulation screen.
Classification and types
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