This rare disorder affects the way your blood clots, which can pose serious health risks. While there’s no cure, with the right treatment, antiphospholipid syndrome can be managed to protect your health.

Antiphospholipid syndrome (APS), also known as Hughes syndrome or “sticky blood syndrome,” is an autoimmune condition that affects how your blood cells bind together, or clot. APS is considered rare.

Women who have recurring miscarriages and people who have a stroke before age 50 sometimes discover that APS is an underlying cause. It’s estimated that APS affects three to five times as many women as men.

Though the cause of APS is unclear, researchers believe that diet, lifestyle, and genetics can all have an impact on developing the condition.

The symptoms of APS can be hard to spot. That’s because blood clots aren’t something you can easily identify without other health conditions or complications.

APS sometimes causes a lacy red rash or bleeding from your nose and gums. Other signs that you may have blood clotting issues include:

  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • nausea
  • fatigue
  • pain or discomfort in the arms or legs, back, neck, or jaw
  • speech changes
  • chronic headache
  • memory loss
  • vision changes
  • balance or mobility issues

Researchers are still working to understand the causes of APS. But they’ve determined that there’s a genetic factor at play.

APS isn’t passed down directly from a parent the way that other blood conditions, like hemophilia, can be. But having a family member with APS means you’re more likely to develop the condition.

It’s possible that a gene connected to other autoimmune conditions also triggers APS. That would explain why people with this condition often have other autoimmune diseases. In fact, people who have lupus or rheumatoid arthritis may be more likely to develop APS.

Having certain viral or bacterial infections, like E. coli or the parvovirus, may trigger APS to develop after the infection has cleared. Medication to control epilepsy, as well as oral contraceptives, may also play a role in triggering the condition.

These environmental factors may also interact with lifestyle factors — like lower activity levels and eating a diet high in cholesterol — and trigger APS.

But children and adults without any of these infections, lifestyle factors, or medication use can still develop APS at any time.

More research is needed to determine what causes or increases your risk of APS.

APS is diagnosed through a series of blood tests. These blood tests analyze the antibodies your immune cells make to see if they behave normally or target other healthy cells.

A common blood test that identifies APS is called an antibody immunoassay. You may need several of these to rule out other conditions.

APS can be misdiagnosed as multiple sclerosis because the two conditions have similar symptoms. Thorough testing should determine your correct diagnosis, but it can take some time.

People with APS are more likely to develop blood clots. This can lead to serious, sometimes life threatening health issues, like:

In rare cases, untreated APS can escalate if you have simultaneous clotting incidences throughout the body. This is called catastrophic antiphospholipid syndrome. It can cause serious damage to your organs as well as death.

But proper treatment can help reduce your risk of developing blood clots and help prevent these types of issues.

APS may be treated with blood thinners (medication that reduces your risk of blood clots).

Some people with APS don’t present the symptoms of blood clots and won’t require any treatment beyond aspirin to prevent the risk of clots developing.

Anticoagulant medications, like warfarin (Coumadin) may be prescribed, especially if you have a history of deep vein thrombosis.

If you’re trying to carry a pregnancy to term and have APS, you may be prescribed a low dose aspirin or a daily dose of the blood thinner heparin. Women with APS are 80% more likely to carry a baby to term if they’re diagnosed and start this type of treatment.

If you’re diagnosed with APS, a healthy diet can reduce your risk of possible complications, like stroke.

Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in trans fats and sugars will give you a healthier cardiovascular system, making blood clots less likely.

If you’re treating APS with warfarin (Coumadin), be consistent with how much vitamin K you consume. Small amounts of vitamin K might not impact your treatment. But regularly varying your vitamin K intake can dangerously alter your medication’s efficacy. Spinach, kale, and broccoli are some foods that are high in vitamin K.

Getting regular exercise can also be a part of managing your condition. Avoid smoking and maintain a healthy weight for your body type to keep your heart and veins strong and more resistant to damage.

Left untreated, APS can damage your cardiovascular system and increase your risk for other health conditions, like miscarriage and stroke. For most people with APS, signs, symptoms, and related health risks can be managed with blood thinners and anticoagulant medications.

There are some cases where these treatments aren’t effective, and other methods need to be used to keep your blood from clotting. Treatment of APS is lifelong, as there’s no cure for this condition.