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Antiphospholipid syndrome

A person with antiphospholipid syndrome, also known as Hughes syndrome, has a condition in which their blood can become sticky and form clots in their arteries or veins. The syndrome can cause serious complications and is also linked to recurrent miscarriage.

What is antiphospholipid syndrome?

In antiphospholipid syndrome (APS), the body's immune system, which normally fights off infection, mistakenly produces antiphospholipid antibodies. These antibodies attack normal proteins attached to a type of fat molecule in the blood and attached to the walls of your blood vessels. When this happens the blood becomes sticky, and this makes it more likely to clot. For this reason it is sometimes referred to as sticky blood syndrome.

Blood normally clots to prevent too much blood loss if you are cut or scrape your skin, for example. However, blood clots that form inside veins and arteries can travel around the body and lead to a number of serious conditions such as:

It is estimated that about 20% of people under 40 who’ve had a stroke may have antiphospholipid syndrome. The syndrome is also responsible for 1 in 6 cases of recurrent miscarriage, in which three or more babies are lost, though experts do not know the reasons why this happens. It can also lead to pre- eclampsia, giving birth to a small baby, or an early birth.

Who gets antiphospholipid syndrome?

It is estimated that over 600,000 people living in the UK have antiphospholipid syndrome, or at least 1% of the population. The syndrome occurs more often in women than men, and although it can affect children and babies, it is most common in people between 20 and 50 years old.

Antiphospholipid syndrome is thought to be a genetic condition with genes from your parents playing a role. Parents don't have to have the antibodies, but there's a greater chance of you having them if another member of your family has antibodies.

In more than 50% of people with antiphospholipid syndrome, it is an autoimmune disease that occurs on its own - this is known as primary antiphospholipid syndrome. In other people it occurs along with another autoimmune condition - when it’s called secondary antiphospholipid syndrome - for example, lupus, Raynaud's phenomenon, Sjogren's syndrome, and thyroid disease.

What are the symptoms of antiphospholipid syndrome?

It is possible to have antiphospholipid antibodies in your bloodstream but to not have any symptoms. Scientists are not sure why some people with the antibodies have symptoms but not others.

The symptoms vary between people. Sometimes there are only general symptoms such as:

  • Feeling dizzy
  • Tiredness
  • Recurrent headaches
  • Memory loss, often with a sensation of "brain fog"
  • Double vision
  • Balance and movement problems
  • A tingling sensation in the arms or legs
  • A blotchy rash on the knees, wrists or arms that has a lacy pattern (livedo reticularis)

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