Heavy periods are not uncommon, says Marla Ahlgrimm. However, up to 20% of women who experience substantial menstrual bleeding are affected by a bleeding disorder known as von Willebrand disease. Here, Ahlgrimm discusses this and other common bleeding issues in women.
Q: What is von Willebrand disease?
Marla Ahlgrimm: von Willebrand disease (VWD) is an inherited bleeding disorder that occurs equally in men and women. Women with VWD will likely experience long and heavy menstrual periods and may bleed more than normal after childbirth. VWD may make it difficult to heal after surgery.
Q: Are VWD and hemophilia similar?
Marla Ahlgrimm: They are similar but hemophilia doesn’t usually cause symptoms in women since they are carriers of the disease. Rarely, a woman with hemophilia will have heavy periods and may bleed more than normal after medical procedures. It is still important for a woman to know if she has a family history of this and any other bleeding disorder because she may pass it on to her children.
Q: How are bleeding disorder treated in women?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Though incurable, there are a number of treatments for both VWD and hemophilia that can make the conditions manageable. Birth control pills are an excellent option for women with related menstrual symptoms. Desmopressin acetate (DDAVP) is a hormone that triggers the release of blood clotting agents in the blood and is administered as a nasal spray or shot; DDAVP is commonly given to hemophiliacs before surgery to reduce the risk of heavy bleeding. Other treatments include antifibrinolytic, a medication that stops clots from breaking down, and medicines to replace missing blood proteins. A hematologist – a doctor that specializes in the research and treatment of blood disorders – prescribes the best treatment for each individual.
Q: Do bleeding disorders interfere with daily life and activities?
Marla Ahlgrimm: All health issues can become disruptive if left untreated. Undiagnosed or untreated bleeding disorders can put a woman at risk of serious complications during routine surgeries and otherwise normal pregnancies.