Antiphospholipid syndrome is a disorder in which your immune system mistakenly produces antibodies against certain normal proteins in your blood. Antiphospholipid syndrome can cause blood clots to form within your arteries or veins as well as pregnancy complications, such as miscarriages and stillbirths.
Antiphospholipid syndrome may lead to the formation of blood clots in your legs, a condition known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Antiphospholipid syndrome may also cause blood clots to form in organs, such as your kidneys or lungs. Damage depends on the extent and location of the clot. For instance, a clot in your brain can cause stroke.
There's no cure for antiphospholipid syndrome, but medications can be effective in reducing your risk of blood clots.
Signs and symptoms of antiphospholipid syndrome may include:
Other less common signs and symptoms include:
Infrequent signs and symptoms include:
When to see a doctor
Other reasons to contact your doctor include:
If you have antiphospholipid syndrome and you're thinking of attempting pregnancy, treatments are available during your pregnancy. But be sure to seek the care of an expert obstetrical provider to discuss your options.
When it's an emergency
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The role of phospholipids
With secondary antiphospholipid syndrome, the cause is considered to be your lupus or other autoimmune disorder.
The cause of primary antiphospholipid syndrome is unknown. However, some factors are associated with developing antiphospholipid antibodies — though not necessarily developing the syndrome. They include:
Risk factors for antiphospholipid syndrome include:
Antiphospholipid syndrome occurs most frequently in young to middle-aged women, although it can occur at any age and also affects men.
Risk factors for developing symptoms
Depending on which organ is affected by a blood clot and how severe the obstruction of blood flow to that organ is, untreated antiphospholipid syndrome can lead to permanent damage or death. Complications may include:
Preparing for your appointment
In most cases, it's the complications of antiphospholipid syndrome — such as deep vein thrombosis, stroke or pregnancy loss — that will prompt you to seek medical care. Depending on your complication, you'll likely see a specialist. For deep vein thrombosis, for instance, you'll meet with a hematologist or a vascular specialist. For stroke, you'll see a neurologist, and for pregnancy loss or complications, you'll meet with your obstetrician or gynecologist.
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready, including what to expect from the doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out.
For antiphospholipid syndrome, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment at any time that you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
If you have one or more episodes of thrombosis or pregnancy loss that are not explained by known health conditions, your doctor can schedule blood tests to check for abnormal clotting and for the presence of antibodies to phospholipid-binding proteins.
Blood tests for antiphospholipid syndrome look for at least one of the following three antibodies in your blood:
To confirm a diagnosis of antiphospholipid syndrome, the antibodies must appear in your blood at least twice, in tests conducted at least 12 weeks apart.
Treatments and drugs
Doctors generally use medications that reduce your blood's tendency to clot to treat antiphospholipid syndrome.
Standard initial treatment
Treatment during pregnancy
Rarely, warfarin can cause birth defects, so it isn't usually recommended during pregnancy. Rarely, a doctor may prescribe warfarin during pregnancy, but only if the benefits of using it outweigh the risks.
Though anticoagulation therapy during pregnancy may be complicated, the good news is that it usually prevents antiphospholipid syndrome-related miscarriages.
If you're taking anticoagulant medication, your doctor will monitor your dosage with blood tests to be sure your blood is capable of clotting enough to stop your bleeding if you bruise or cut yourself.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Depending on your treatment plan for antiphospholipid syndrome, there are additional steps you can take to protect your health.
If you take anticoagulants
Certain foods and medications may affect how well your anticoagulants work. Ask your doctor for guidance about:
If you don't take anticoagulants
Last Updated: 2011-04-02
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