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HIGH-RISK PREGNANCY :: Autoimmune Diseases

Antiphospholipid Syndrome (aPL)

What is antiphospholipid syndrome (aPL)?

Antiphospholipid syndrome is an autoimmune disease in which the body produces large amounts of antiphospholipid antibodies. Phospholipids are a special type of fat containing phosphate that makes up the outer walls of the body's cells. Antiphospholipid antibodies attack the phospholipids. This causes many different problems including increased blood clotting. Cardiolipin is one type of phospholipid and specific anticardiolipin antibodies may develop.

This disease is about two times more common in women than men. It is generally characterized by the following:

  • thrombosis - blood clots in arteries or veins (especially in the legs). Clots in vessels of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) can result in stroke.
  • thrombocytopenia - low platelets (cells important in blood clotting).
  • pregnancy loss (especially repeated losses)

Antiphospholipid syndrome was only defined in recent years and is sometimes called Hughes syndrome, or sticky blood syndrome. The disease may occur along with other autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE, or lupus).

Antiphospholipid syndrome is often difficult to diagnose, however, blood tests for antibodies including lupus and anticardiolipin may aid in the diagnosis.

How does pregnancy affect antiphospholipid syndrome (aPL)?

It is not clear whether aPL is worsened or unchanged by pregnancy.

How does antiphospholipid syndrome (aPL) affect pregnancy?

This disease can have serious effects in pregnancy, both for the mother and the baby. Risks for several complications are increased in women with aPL, and may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • stroke
  • blood clots
  • pregnancy-induced hypertension (high blood pressure of pregnancy), occurring in as many as 50 percent of women with aPL
  • stillbirth (fetal death)
  • recurrent miscarriage
  • intrauterine growth restriction (poor fetal growth)
  • preterm birth (as many as 33 percent of women with aPL may deliver before 32 weeks gestation)

Management of antiphospholipid syndrome (aPL) during pregnancy:

Because of the higher risks for stroke, pregnancy loss, and other complications with aPL, mothers need close monitoring of the disease. More frequent prenatal visits are often needed.

Medication for aPL may need to be changed (type and/or dosage) during pregnancy. Consult your physician for more information.

Testing during pregnancy with aPL may include the following:

  • blood tests for aPL (specific antibodies that help track the severity of the disease)
  • blood clotting levels in the blood
  • monitoring for signs of pregnancy-induced hypertension
  • ultrasound - a diagnostic imaging technique which uses high-frequency sound waves and a computer to create images of blood vessels, tissues, and organs. Ultrasounds are used to view internal organs as they function, and to assess blood flow through various vessels used to monitor fetal growth and development.
  • fetal heart monitoring (to check the fetal heart rate for signs of distress)
  • other fetal testing, including Doppler flow studies (to monitor the blood flow in the uterus and umbilical cord)

Women with aPL can increase their chances for a healthy pregnancy by getting early prenatal care and working with their healthcare providers in the management of their disease.

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Online Resources of High-Risk Pregnancy

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It is important to remember the health information found on this website is for reference only not intended to replace the advice and guidance of your healthcare provider. Always seek the advice of your physician with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.
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