A bleeding disorder is a condition that affects the way your blood normally clots. The clotting process, also known as coagulation, changes blood from a liquid to a solid. When you’re injured, your blood normally begins to clot to prevent a massive loss of blood. Sometimes, certain conditions prevent blood from clotting properly, which can result in heavy or prolonged bleeding.
Bleeding disorders can cause abnormal bleeding both outside and inside the body. Some disorders can drastically increase the amount of blood leaving your body. Others cause bleeding to occur under the skin or in vital organs, such as the brain.
Bleeding disorders often develop when the blood can’t clot properly. For blood to clot, your body needs blood proteins called clotting factors and blood cells called platelets. Normally, platelets clump together to form a plug at the site of a damaged or injured blood vessel. The clotting factors then come together to form a fibrin clot. This keeps the platelets in place and prevents blood from flowing out of the blood vessel.
In people with bleeding disorders, however, the clotting factors or platelets don’t work the way they should or are in short supply. When the blood doesn’t clot, excessive or prolonged bleeding can occur. It can also lead to spontaneous or sudden bleeding in the muscles, joints, or other parts of the body.
The majority of bleeding disorders are inherited, which means they’re passed from a parent to their child. However, some disorders may develop as a result of other medical conditions, such as liver disease.
Bleeding disorders may also be caused by:
- a low red blood cell count
- a vitamin K deficiency
- side effects from certain medications
Medications that can interfere with the clotting of the blood are called anticoagulants.
Bleeding disorders can be inherited or acquired. Inherited disorders are passed down through genetics. Acquired disorders can develop or spontaneously occur later in life. Some bleeding disorders can result in severe bleeding following an accident or injury. In other disorders, heavy bleeding can happen suddenly and for no reason.
There are numerous different bleeding disorders, but the following are the most common ones:
- Hemophilia A and B are conditions that occur when there are low levels of clotting factors in your blood. It causes heavy or unusual bleeding into the joints. Though hemophilia is rare, it can have life-threatening complications.
- Factor II, V, VII, X, or XII deficiencies are bleeding disorders related to blood clotting problems or abnormal bleeding problems.
- Von Willebrand’s disease is the most common inherited bleeding disorder. It develops when the blood lacks von Willebrand factor, which helps the blood to clot.
The symptoms can vary depending on the specific type of bleeding disorder. However, the main signs include:
- unexplained and easy bruising
- heavy menstrual bleeding
- frequent nosebleeds
- excessive bleeding from small cuts or an injury
- bleeding into joints
Schedule an appointment with your doctor right away if you have one or more of these symptoms. Your doctor can diagnose your condition and help to prevent complications associated with certain blood disorders.
To diagnose a bleeding disorder, your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and medical history. They will also perform a physical examination. During your appointment, make sure to mention:
- any medical conditions you currently have
- any medications or supplements you may be taking
- any recent falls or trauma
- how often you experience the bleeding
- how long the bleeding lasts
- what you were doing before the bleeding began
After gathering this information, your doctor will run blood tests to make a proper diagnosis. These tests may include:
- a complete blood count (CBC), which measures the amount of red and white blood cells in your body
- a platelet aggregation test, which checks how well your platelets clump together
- a bleeding time test, which determines how quickly your blood clots to prevent bleeding
Treatment options vary depending on the type of bleeding disorder and its severity. Though treatments can’t cure bleeding disorders, they can help relieve the symptoms associated with certain disorders.
Your doctor may prescribe iron supplements to replenish the amount of iron in your body if you have significant blood loss. A low iron level can result in iron deficiency anemia. This condition can make you feel weak, tired, and dizzy. You may need a blood transfusion if symptoms don’t improve with iron supplementation.
A blood transfusion replaces any lost blood with blood taken from a donor. The donor blood has to match your blood type to prevent complications. This procedure can only be done in the hospital.
Some bleeding disorders may be treated with topical products or nasal sprays. Other disorders, including hemophilia, can be treated with factor replacement therapy. This involves injecting clotting factor concentrates into your bloodstream. These injections can prevent or control excessive bleeding.
You can also get fresh frozen plasma transfusions if you lack certain clotting factors. Fresh frozen plasma contains factors V and VIII, which are two important proteins that help with blood clotting. These transfusions must be done in a hospital.
Most complications associated with bleeding disorders can be prevented or controlled with treatment. However, it’s important to get treatment as soon as possible. Complications often occur when bleeding disorders are treated too late.
Common complications of bleeding disorders include:
- bleeding in the intestines
- bleeding into the brain
- bleeding into the joints
- joint pain
Complications can also arise if the disorder is severe or causes excessive blood loss.
Bleeding disorders can be particularly dangerous for women, especially if they’re not treated quickly. Untreated bleeding disorders increase the risk of excessive bleeding during childbirth, a miscarriage, or an abortion. Women with bleeding disorders may also experience very heavy menstrual bleeding. This can lead to anemia, a condition that occurs when your body doesn’t produce enough red blood cells to carry oxygen to your tissues. Anemia can cause weakness, shortness of breath, and dizziness.
If a woman has endometriosis she may have heavy blood loss that she can not see because it is hidden in the abdominal or pelvic area.
It’s important to call your doctor right away if you have any symptoms of a bleeding disorder. Getting prompt treatment will help prevent any potential complications.