Hypercoagulation disorders, also known as thrombophilia or thrombotic disorders, are abnormalities in which a patient's blood clots too easily, resulting in several possible disease conditions. Coagulation is a vital process. Fortunately, for most people it is also an automatic, dependable one. In some cases, however, hypercoagulation (excessive clotting) occurs and may become life-threatening.
Causes of Hypercoagulation
There are many factors that may cause blood to clot too easily, increasing the risk of an obstructing clot within a blood vessel, known as a thrombosis. A thrombosis is dangerous because it interferes with hemostasis, or normal blood flow. Hypercoagulation disorders may be acquired or hereditary.
Some of the genetic abnormalities leading to hypercoagulation may be abnormally high levels of clotting factors or deficiencies in certain proteins. Inherited diseases, such as congenital heart disease, may also result in abnormal clotting.
Acquired hypercoagulation may be caused by prolonged periods of inactivity such as during lengthy travel by airplane or car or prolonged bed rest after an illness or surgery. It may also be caused by: medications, obesity, pregnancy, smoking and birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy. In addition, certain medical conditions such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, nephrotic syndrome, atherosclerosis, and inflammatory bowel disease may also contribute to acquired hypercoagulation.
While it is not a cause for hypercoagulation, women who have had several unexplained miscarriages may experience excessive blood clotting which in turn may be linked to the cause of the miscarriages.
Symptoms of Hypercoagulation Disorders
Hypercoagulation disorders can cause clots in the blood vessels, a condition known as thromboembolic disease. Thromboembolic disease may lead to:
- Discoloration or swelling of the limbs
- Tenderness or pain at the site
- Visible varicose veins
- Difficulty walking
- Ulcerations on the lower leg
Diagnosis of a Hypercoagulation Disorders
Hypercoagulation disorders are diagnosed through a complete physical examination and a review of symptoms. A review of the patient's family history is also important since some causes of coagulation disorders are genetic. In order to pinpoint a coagulation abnormality, one or more of the following diagnostic tests are administered:
- Complete blood count
- Blood tests for proteins and clotting factors
- Doppler ultrasound
- Venography or arteriography
- Platelet aggregation test
- Test of clotting time
- Genetic testing
Additional tests may also be performed to rule out certain diseases and any underlying conditions.
Treatment of Hypercoagulation Disorders
When a hypercoagulation disorder has been diagnosed, the doctor usually recommends aspirin or prescribes another anticoagulant medication to prevent the formation of dangerous clots. Prescription anticoagulants include Warfarin, also known as Coumadin, which is taken orally, and Heparin which is administered intravenously or by subcutaneous injection. While there are great benefits to such medications, there are also risks.
Patients taking anticoagulant medications must be carefully supervised by their physicians and have regular blood tests. They must be especially carefully monitored before, during or after any surgical or dental procedure. Alterations in regimens of anticoagulant treatment should never be undertaken without specific medical instruction since such actions may put the patient at grave risk.
Complications of a Hypercoagulation Disorders
The possible complications of hypercoagulation disorders are extremely serious, so disorders of this kind must never be ignored. Left untreated, coagulation disorders may result in:
- Deep vein thrombosis
- Heart attack
While it is usually possible to treat hypercoagulation disorders with medication, in most cases the patient must continue the treatment indefinitely, to keep the problem under control and must have ongoing medical supervision.