Coagulation defects — also known as bleeding disorders and blood clotting disorders — are problems with your blood’s ability to form clots. The defects can involve your blood vessels and the cells and proteins in your blood.
Your blood includes platelets, a type of small cell, and proteins, such as clotting or coagulation factors. When your blood clots, the platelets and proteins come together to form a solid.
Clotting is a useful way for your body to close wounds and keep you from losing too much blood. Your body usually dissolves the clot after you have had enough time to heal.
Coagulation defects happen when your blood either has problems forming these clots or forms too many and doesn’t dissolve them properly.
What Are the Types of Coagulation Defects?
There are two main types of coagulation disorders. These types are the result of either too little clotting or too much.
Too little clotting leads to hemorrhaging — when you continue to bleed for much longer than normal. This can lead to losing dangerous amounts of blood.
Too much clotting leads to thrombosis — when your blood clots block the flow in your blood vessels. Blood clots can lead to several serious conditions, including heart attacks, strokes, and organ failure.
What Causes Coagulation Defects?
You can either be born with the conditions that lead to blood clotting disorders or acquire them during your life. Occasionally, conditions that you’re normally born with — like hemophilia — can develop during your life due to a rare medical condition.
Many underlying conditions lead to too little clotting and too much bleeding. These include:
- Hemophilia A, B, and C. Hemophilia is an inherited condition that leaves you without certain clotting factors in your blood. Hemophilia A is the most common.
- Development of circulating anticoagulants. Certain parts of your blood are meant to prevent it from forming clots. When these become overactive, you develop a condition that’s a lot like hemophilia.
- Liver disease–associated bleeding. Liver disease can lead to several problems with the organ that disrupt the creation of clotting factors.
- Too little vitamin K. Vitamin K helps your blood clot. A vitamin K deficiency can lead to issues with clotting and is commonly seen in breast-fed infants.
- Von Willebrand Disease. This is an inherited condition that results in certain proteins missing from your blood — different types of the Von Willebrand clotting factor.
Other conditions can lead to too many blood clots and thrombosis. These include:
- Antithrombin III deficiency. Your blood will clot too much if you have low levels of this protein in your blood.
- Prothrombin gene mutation. This is an inherited mutation that causes your body to make too much of a clotting factor.
- Factor V Leiden. This is an inherited condition in which one of your clotting factors is overactive, forming too many clots.
- Antiphospholipid antibody syndrome. This is an autoimmune disorder that increases your risk of forming unwanted blood clots.
What Are Coagulation Defect Symptoms?
Symptoms of bleeding disorders with too little clotting include:
- Many bruises
- Bruises that form easily
- Blood in your urine
- Extreme fatigue
- Spontaneous nosebleeds
- Cuts or other injuries that don’t stop bleeding
- Repeated vomiting
Symptoms of bleeding disorders with too much clotting will depend on where the blood clots are located. They can include:
- Heart attacks. When the clot blocks blood flow to your heart
- Strokes. When the clot blocks blood flow to your brain
- Pulmonary embolisms. When the clot blocks blood flow to your lungs
- Deep vein thrombosis. When the clot blocks an important blood vessel that normally supplies blood to your legs or arms, for example
What Are the Treatments for Coagulation Defects?
The coagulation defect treatment your doctor chooses for your bleeding disorder will depend on what is causing the condition. For example, there are specific treatments for liver disease and vitamin K deficiencies. If the problem is mild, you may not need any special treatment at all.
Other types of treatment include:
- Medications. Your doctor may prescribe blood thinners like heparin or warfarin to prevent clots and the problems that they can cause. There are also medicines to help your blood clot.
- Factor replacement therapy. This is a way to improve your blood’s clotting ability by directly adding in the missing clotting factors.
- Blood transfusions. If you lose a lot of blood due to a lack of clotting, you may need a transfusion.
- Joining a clinical trial. Depending on your condition, you may qualify for ongoing clinical trials for new medicines or treatment plans for your particular disorder.
Talk to your doctor if you experience excessive bleeding. Get immediate medical help if you believe that you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of a blood clot that are listed above, such as heart attack or stroke.