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Antiphospholipid Antibody Syndrome

  [ 194 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ]
www.ProHealth.com • April 17, 2002




What is the antiphospholipid antibody syndrome?

What laboratory tests can support the diagnosis of the antiphospholipid antibody syndrome?

What causes the antiphospholipid antibody syndrome?

How is the antiphospholipid antibody syndrome treated?

Antiphospholipid Antibody Syndrome At A Glance

What is the antiphospholipid antibody syndrome?

The antiphospholipid antibody syndrome is a disorder of the immune system that is characterized by excessive clotting of blood and/or certain complications of pregnancy (premature miscarriages, unexplained fetal death, or premature birth) and antiphospholipid antibodies (cardiolipin or lupus anticoagulant antibodies). Patients with antiphospholipid antibody syndrome have developed abnormal symptoms while having antiphospholipid antibodies detectable in the blood.

Antiphospholipid antibody syndrome is also called the phospholipid antibody syndrome. Antiphospholipid antibody syndrome has been referred to as Hughes syndrome in honor of the doctor who first described it.
It is important to note that antiphospholipid antibodies can also be found in the blood of individuals without any disease process. In fact, antiphospholipid antibodies have been reported in approximately 2 percent of the normal population. Harmless antiphospholipid antibodies can be detected in the blood for a brief period occasionally in association with a wide variety of conditions, including bacterial, viral (hepatitis, HIV), and parasite (malaria) infections. Certain drugs can cause antiphospholipid antibodies to be produced in the blood, including antibiotics, cocaine, hydralazine, procainamide, and quinine.

Nevertheless, the antiphospholipid antibody (a protein) is not considered a normal blood protein and has been found in patients to be associated with a number of illnesses. These illnesses include abnormal clotting
(thrombosis) of arteries and/or veins (phlebitis), premature miscarriages (spontaneous abortions), abnormally low blood platelet counts (thrombocytopenia), purplish mottling discoloration of the skin (livedo reticularis), migraine headaches, and a rare form of inflammation of the nervous tissue of the brain or spinal cord, called transverse myelitis. Antiphospholipid antibodies have also been detected in over half of patients with the immune disease systemic lupus erythematosus.

Researchers are recently also finding that there are patients with slowly progressive memory problems and patients with a form of "atypical multiple sclerosis" and antiphospholipid antibodies detectable in their blood.

What laboratory tests can support the diagnosis of the antiphospholipid antibody syndrome?

Patients with the antiphospholipid antibody syndrome can have a variety of antibodies to phospholipids in their blood, including VDRL/RPR (a syphilis test that can be falsely positive in these patients), lupus anticoagulant, prolonged PTT, and cardiolipin antibody. As mentioned above, the anticardiolipin antibody has also been found in patients with the immune disease, systemic lupus erythematosus, which is characterized by the production of a variety of abnormal antibodies.

What causes the antiphospholipid antibody syndrome?

The cause is not completely known. Antiphospholipid antibodies reduce the levels of annexin V, a protein that binds phospholipids and has potent clot-blocking (anticoagulant) activity. The reduction of annexin V levels is thought to be a possible mechanism underlying the increased tendency of blood to clot and the propensity to pregnancy loss characteristic of the antiphospholipid antibody syndrome.

Antiphospholipid antibodies, such as anticardiolipin, have also been associated with decreased levels of prostacyclin, a chemical that prevents the clumping together of normal blood clotting elements called platelets.

How is the antiphospholipid antibody syndrome treated?

The treatment of patients with anticardiolipin antibody syndrome has substantially evolved since they were discovered to be clinically important in the mid-1980s. Each manifestation of the antiphospholipid antibody syndrome, and each individual patient with the condition, is treated uniquely.

Because many of the features of illness with anticardiolipin antibody syndrome are associated with an abnormal grouping of normal blood clotting elements (platelets), treatment is often directed toward preventing clotting by thinning the blood. Patients with this disorder have an abnormal tendency to form blood clots (thrombosis). The abnormal blood clotting can affect the function of virtually any organ. Medications that thin (anticoagulate) the blood, such as heparin and coumadin (powerful blood thinners), are used for treatment. Aspirin has an affect on platelets which inhibits their grouping (aggregation) and has also been used in low doses to thin the blood of selected patients. Cortisone-related medications, such as prednisone, have been used to suppress the immune activity and inflammation in patients with certain features of the condition. For patients with systemic lupus erythematosus who have anticardiolipin antibody syndrome, hydroxychloroquine
(Plaquenil) has been reported to add some protection against blood clotting.

Other reported treatments include the use of intravenous gamma globulin for selected patients with histories of premature miscarriage and those with low blood-clotting elements (platelets) during pregnancy. Recent research studies, however, suggest that intravenous gamma globulin may be no more effective than combination aspirin and heparin treatment.

Antiphospholipid Antibody Syndrome At A Glance

The antiphospholipid antibody syndrome is an immune disorder.
Patients with the antiphospholipid antibody syndrome can have a variety of antibodies to phospholipids in their blood.

The antiphospholipid antibody syndrome involves abnormal clotting.
Each individual patient with the antiphospholipid antibody syndrome is treated uniquely according to what symptoms are present.

Author: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

For further information, please visit the Systemic Lupus and Miscarriage articles of MedicineNet.com.



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