What is a Bleeding Disorder?
A bleeding disorder exists when it is hard for a person to stop bleeding. When a person bleeds, the blood clots, stopping the bleeding. The clotting process, also called coagulation, changes blood from a liquid to a solid state. It takes both blood cells (called platelets) and proteins (called clotting factors) for blood to clot properly. When a person has a bleeding disorder, the blood platelets are not working like they should, or there are not enough platelets or clotting factors in the blood. This causes a person to bleed for longer periods of time than normal.
Normal blood coagulation is a complex process involving as many as 20 different plasma proteins, which are known as blood clotting or coagulation factors. Normally, these factors interact with other chemicals to form a substance called fibrin that stops bleeding. When certain coagulation factors are deficient or missing, the process is impaired. Bleeding problems can range from mild to severe.
Some bleeding disorders are present at birth and are caused by rare inherited disorders. Others are developed during certain illnesses (such as Vitamin K deficiency or severe liver disease), or treatments (such as use of anticoagulant drugs or prolonged use of antibiotics). These disorders can be either inherited or acquired. The acquired forms often arise from the side effects of certain drugs. These disorders can be controlled, so a person can have a healthy and full life.
There are several types of bleeding disorders. The best known is hemophilia. However, the most common bleeding disorder is von Willebrand disease (VWD), which affects 1-2% of the population. There may be as many as 3,000,000 people in the U.S. with bleeding disorders.
There are other, rarer bleeding disorders that are the result of deficiencies or defects in platelets, or clotting factors I, II, V, VII, X, XI or XIII. The severity and symptoms of bleeding vary from disorder to disorder.