Von Willebrand Disease

What is Von Willebrand Disease?

Von Willebrand disease (VWD) causes excessive or extended bleeding. It is often inherited, although some patients will develop this condition later on in life.

Caused by a deficiency in, or an impairment of, a protein known as the von Willebrand factor, von Willebrand disease causes the body to be unable to form clots efficiently in order to stop bleeding when injured. This is because the von Willebrand factor is an essential component of the body’s blood clotting process.

What are the Symptoms of Von Willebrand Disease?

Generally, individuals who suffer with von Willebrand disease will bruise easily, have frequent nosebleeds, and bleed excessively both during and after an invasive procedure, such as a surgery or a tooth extraction.

Women will often suffer from heavy, long periods, and they can also experience hemorrhaging after giving birth.

There are three types of VWD that are inherited and a fourth that isn’t hereditary:

  • Type 1 VWD will usually produce mild symptoms, while Type 2 symptoms can be mild to moderate in severity.
  • Type 3 will cause severe symptoms, as well as spontaneous bleeding into the muscles and joints.
  • The acquired type in adults can occur after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, heart disease, or cancer, and it could also develop after taking certain medications.

Von Willebrand Disease Causes

Von Willebrand disease is an inherited condition named after the von Willebrand factor, which is affected by the abnormal genetic disease.

In a normal individual, something may occur to inhibit blood clotting, causing excessive bleeding. When this happens, the von Willebrand factor releases a substance called factor VIII, which assists with clotting. Persons developing von Willebrand disease often lack a sufficient supply of factor VIII, which can then lead to the development of hemophilia.

While both hemophilia and von Willebrand disease are both inherited conditions, hemophilia usually affects males, while both men and women can inherit von Willebrand disease. There are instances where adults have developed von Willebrand disease later in life without having inherited the genetic defect from a parent.

That condition is called acquired von Willebrand disease and researchers believe it’s instigated by the development of some other related medical condition.

How is Von Willebrand Disease Treated?

Treatment of VWD might include the use of DDAVP, which is a medication that can help raise the von Willebrand factor in the body while reducing the odds of bleeding. However, this medication will not work on every type of VWD.

Another drug that may decrease bleeding in individuals with VWD is Alphanate. Blood plasma, as well as factor VIII preparations, might also be prescribed to help reduce bleeding.

Von Willebrand Disease Prevention

Von Willebrand disease is a genetic condition passed down from parents to children, so there’s little that can be done to prevent the disease. The first step is to be aware that the genetic defect exists within the family.

From there, couples interested in having children can consult their doctor to learn about the risks involved in passing down von Willebrand disease to their offspring. Even if neither parent exhibits symptoms of the disease, they may still be carriers and can pass it on to their children.

Preventing the excessive bleeding caused by von Willebrand disease is much more likely than preventing the disease from developing in the first place. A doctor may recommend blood-thinning medications, such as aspirin and ibuprofen.

Additionally, it’s wise to forewarn doctors and dentists before submitting to surgery, dental procedures, giving birth, or starting new medications. Maintaining an active lifestyle will also help, though it’s recommended that violent sports, like football or hockey, be avoided. Any activity in which there’s a greater likelihood of injury should be avoided.

Last Reviewed:
October 11, 2016
Last Updated:
September 09, 2017