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Von Willebrand's Disease: Types, Factors, and Treatments

Von Willebrand's Disease: Types, Factors, and Treatments
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  • 1:06 Causes & Types
  • 3:34 Symptoms
  • 4:10 Treatment
  • 5:28 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Von Willebrand's disease is a bleeding disorder caused by a deficiency of von Willebrand factor, which is the glue that holds platelets together in the blood clotting process. Learn about the different types of von Willebrand's disease and treatments.

Von Willebrand's Disease

The blood vessels that course through your body are somewhat like hoses. If you are outside watering your flower garden and the hose you are using gets a crack in it, then it will leak water. If your blood vessel gets a crack, it leaks blood.

Both of these problems are usually manageable. You can patch the crack in your garden hose with some duct tape and your body has developed a clotting mechanism to stop bleeding within your blood vessels. This mechanism involves platelets, which are tiny cell fragments that stick to the walls of the damaged blood vessel to control bleeding. However, in those with Von Willebrand's Disease, these platelets do not stick together as well as they should. Von Willebrand's disease is defined as a bleeding disorder that affects the blood's ability to clot due to a deficiency of von Willebrands factor. In this lesson, you will learn about this factor, which acts like glue in the blood clotting process, and take a closer look at the important aspects of this disease.

Causes and Types

Von Willebrand's disease is usually an inherited disorder. There are rare cases of people acquiring this condition later in life, though the reason for this is not known. Being inherited means that there is a defective gene that gets passed down from parent to child. This disorder can be inherited by either a male or female child. When the disorder is inherited, the severity of your symptoms and the type of von Willebrand's disease you develop will depend on whether one parent or both parents pass on the gene. If only one of your parents passes along the genetic mutation, then you will have either type 1 or type 2.

Those with type 1 von Willebrand's disease have lower-than-normal levels of von Willebrand factor. Now we keep mentioning this factor, so let's take a closer look at what it is and what is does. Von Willebrand Factor is a blood protein that acts as the glue that holds the platelets together in the blood clotting process.

If you are a person who likes to do crafts, you know that when you don't have a sufficient amount of glue, your craft doesn't stick together. Well, the same thing happens in a person with type 1 von Willebrand's disease, but in this case, there is not enough 'glue', or von Willebrand factor, to hold the platelets together. Because of this, damaged edges of the blood vessel do no stick together, and the person ends up with prolonged bleeding.

In type 2 von Willebrand's disease, the amount of 'glue' is not the problem; instead, what we see is that the glue itself is not working properly. So those with type 2 have defects in the function or structure of the von Willebrand factor. These varying defects are due to different gene mutations, so we divide type 2 into subtypes known as 2A, 2B, 2M, and 2N.

Generally speaking, type 1 and all subtypes of type 2 von Willebrand's disease have milder symptoms than Type 3. This is because with type 3, there is no von Willebrand factor present due to the fact that both parents pass down the defective gene. You can imagine that if there is no glue, there is no clotting of platelets, so bleeding is hard to stop in a person with type 3 von Willebrand's disease.

Symptoms

A person with type 3 has a serious condition that could be life-threatening. They will have all of the bleeding symptoms that we would expect to see in a person with type 1 or type 2, which include easy bruising, excessive bleeding from a cut, frequent nosebleeds, bleeding gums - especially after visiting the dentist, blood in the urine or stool, or increased menstrual flow in women. However, in a person with type 3, these symptoms can be severe, and the person may experience extensive bleeding for unknown reasons that could require hospitalization or emergency treatment.

Treatment

In general, we see that type 1 von Willebrand's disease is associated with the mildest symptoms. Fortunately, this is also the most common type. Type 2 tends to bring with it a more moderate display of symptoms, and of course, type 3 has the most severe symptom profile.

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