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What is von Willebrand disease (VWD)?

Von Willebrand disease (VWD) is the most common type of bleeding disorder, and is found in up to 1 percent of the population. When people have VWD, their blood refuses to clot properly. Blood contains numerous proteins that help the body stop bleeding following a medical procedure or when there is an injury; one of these proteins is named von Willebrand factor (VWF). People with VWD have low levels of VWF or VWF that doesn't work properly. As a result, blood clots might take longer to form and bleeding may take longer to stop. VWD is almost always hereditary, meaning that it is passed down from a parent to a child.

Von Willebrand disease is the most common inherited bleeding disorder. It occurs in people who either have a deficiency of a blood clotting protein called von Willebrand factor, or they have the clotting factor, but it malfunctions. Von Willebrand factor helps blood platelets clump together and stick to blood vessel walls, essential steps in normal blood clotting. Von Willebrand disease affects about 1 percent of Americans and occurs with equal frequency in men and women.

Symptoms of von Willebrand disease include:

  • heavy, long menstrual periods (menorrhagia—the most common symptom in women)
  • bleeding gums
  • excessive or prolonged bleeding after surgery or dental work
  • excessive or prolonged bleeding (hemorrhaging) after giving birth
  • bruising easily
  • nosebleeds
  • skin rash

There are four types of von Willebrand disease.

  1. Type 1 affects 60-80 percent of people with von Willebrand disease, is caused by having too little von Willebrand factor, and causes symptoms that are usually mild.
  2. Type 2 affects 15-30 percent of people with von Willebrand disease, is due to malfunctioning von Willebrand factor, and causes mild to moderate symptoms.
  3. Type 3 affects 5 to 10 percent of people with von Willebrand disease, is caused by a deficiency of von Willebrand factor, and can produce severe symptoms.
  4. Acquired von Willebrand disease, the only type that is not inherited, can occur after the diagnosis of certain diseases (lupus, heart disease, some cancers) or as a result of taking certain medications.

Von Willebrand is treatable with certain prescription medications.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.