A recently identified autoimmune disorder, antiphospholipid antibody syndrome (APS) mainly affects young women between age 30 and 40. Those affected by APS may otherwise be healthy or have an underlying disease such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).
APS is “an autoimmune disease associated with frequent clotting in arteries and veins and/or fetal losses,” according to fact-sheet author Pier Luigi Meroni, MD, professor of rheumatology at the University of Milan in Italy. “The clotting results from the presence of proteins in the blood called antiphospholipid autoantibodies formed against the person’s own tissues. In circulation, these autoantibodies are able to interfere with some mechanisms of coagulation, leading to clot formation or thrombosis.”
It is not completely clear why patients develop these autoantibodies. Some evidence suggests that environmental factors—such as infections in the presence of a predisposing genetic background—play a role in triggering autoantibody production.
Dr. Meroni also notes that “the need for a long-term oral anticoagulant therapy significantly affects the lifestyle of the patients, creating the need for regular controls for the anticoagulation effect and special attention paid to the diet and to situations at risk of bleeding, such as falls.” Correcting thrombosis risk factors (diabetes, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, obesity, smoking, and estrogen therapy for menopause or contraception) is mandatory in APS patients and significantly affects lifestyle.
Preventive treatment for obstetrical manifestations—such as heparin injections and low-dose aspirin—is quite effective. The majority of the women can eventually have healthy babies.
For more details on diagnosing, treating, and living with APS—or for information about other patient-education materials—visit www.rheumatology.org/public/factsheets.