There are several types of bleeding disorders that affect women. von Willebrand disease (VWD) is the most common inherited bleeding disorder and may affect up to 2.5 million American women. Women may also be “symptomatic carriers” of hemophilia, meaning that in addition to carrying the gene, they also exhibit symptoms similar to mild hemophilia. All of the rare factor deficiencies, which include factor I, II, V, VII, XI and XIII, can also result in bleeding among men and women.
Aside from the fact that women have similar symptoms to men with bleeding disorders, they can also experience added obstetric and gynecological complications. VWD and other bleeding disorders are particularly troublesome for reproductive-aged women. Heavy and prolonged menstrual bleeding, also known as menorrhagia, can lead to serious complications if left untreated. Other common symptoms include recurrent nosebleeds, easy bruising, bleeding from the digestive or urinary tract and excessive bleeding from the mouth or gums.
Some doctors may not be familiar with bleeding disorders affecting women, making a definitive diagnosis elusive. It is common for bleeding symptoms to be attributed to other causes or to simply go unexplained. The troubling aspect to this problem is that non-surgical treatments are available for these conditions. In cases where a woman with a bleeding disorder (or symptomatic carrier) becomes pregnant, she should see an obstetrician as soon as possible. This will ensure that the doctor can consult with the local hemophilia treatment center to provide pre- and postnatal care for the woman and her baby. Decisions about what medical and surgical options to pursue should be based on personal preference, family planning goals and severity of bleeding problems.
Women who suspect they may have a bleeding disorder should contact NHF for information about where to go for help and what to discuss with a doctor. Information and referrals to healthcare providers are also available through HANDI at 800-424-2634 or firstname.lastname@example.org.