Von Willebrand disease (vWD) is the most common inherited bleeding disorder. It is named after Eric von Willebrand, the doctor who first described it. vWD is caused by a deficiency or defect of von Willebrand factor (vWF). While it is similar to hemophilia, it is a distinct condition. One difference is that while hemophilia is rare in women, von Willebrand disease affects women and men equally.
The signs and symptoms of vWD depend on which type of vWD the person has and how serious it is. Many people who have type 1 vWD have such mild symptoms that they don’t know they have it. People who have type 3 vWD may have all of the symptoms listed below, and severe bleeding episodes with no obvious cause. These bleeding episodes can be fatal if not treated right away.
Early diagnosis of vWD is important to make sure that the patient is treated effectively and can live an active life.
The most common symptoms of vWD are:
- Bruising easily
- Increased or prolonged menstrual bleeding
- Frequent and prolonged nose bleeds
- Blood in stool or urine
- Prolonged bleeding after dental work, childbirth, surgery or injury
Von Willebrand disease affects women and men equally.
Early diagnosis of vWD is important to make sure that the patient is treated effectively and can live an active life. A simple blood test will show how much von Willebrand factor is present. Sometimes people have to be tested a couple of times, because the von Willebrand factor levels in the blood can go higher (for a day or two) because of exercise, surgery, certain medications, illness or stress.
Treatments for vWD vary widely, but they typically involve:
- Medications to help control bleeding or stabilize blood clots
- Contraceptives for women who are menstruating
- Medications or sealants applied directly to cuts
If you have vWd, there are some things you can do to help manage your condition:
- Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking aspirin or common pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil®) or naproxen (Aleve®).
- Make sure your doctors, including your primary care doctor and your dentist, are aware that you have vWD.
- Consider wearing a medical ID bracelet or carrying a medical alert card with you, noting that you have vWD.
- Stay active but stay safe. Physical activity is great for your overall health, but stay away from activities that could lead to bruising or cuts.