What is Antiphospholipid Syndrome

Antiphospholipid syndrome (APS) is a condition that can cause blood clots to form in the body’s blood vessels, which can lead to serious, even life-threatening health problems. APS is an autoimmune disorder. These disorders cause the body’s immune system, which is there to protect the body from disease and infection, to attack healthy cells by mistake.

APS is one of more than 80 known autoimmune disorders that can impact various organs including:

  • Joints
  • Muscles
  • Skin and blood

Other common autoimmune disorders are rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

In APS, the immune system makes antibodies that mistakenly attack a type of fat molecule called a phospholipid. Phospholipids are found on the surface of many cells throughout the body, including cells in the bloodstream and cells that line blood vessels.

Understanding APS

APS 101, written by  Dr. Jacqueline Madison, will take you through the ins and outs of APS, providing facts and key information to help you better understand the disease.

Complications of Antiphospholipid Syndrome

When antibodies attack phospholipids or proteins that bind to them, cells are damaged. This can cause abnormal blood clots to form in the body's blood vessels, and can block blood flow and damage the body's organs, which can lead to serious health problems such as: 

  • Stroke: Occurs when a clot blocks the flow of blood to the brain.
  • Heart attack: Occurs when clot block the artery, preventing the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart.
  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT): Is a condition that results from the formation of a thrombus, or blood clot, in a vein deep within the body.
  • Pulmonary embolism: Is the sudden blockage of a major blood vessel (artery) in the lung, usually by a blood clot.
  • Kidney damage: Can occur due to decreased blood flow to kidneys.
In women it can also cause pregnancy-related problems such as miscarriage or premature birth due to preeclampsia or eclampsia. Other problems associated with APS include:
  • Damage to heart valves
  • Low blood counts (especially platelets)
  • Cognitive dysfunction (or problems thinking clearly)
  • Livedo reticularis (a type of skin discoloration)

Risk Factors of Antiphospholipid Syndrome

  • APS can affect people of any sex and can be diagnosed at any age. In general, it seems to affect women more often than men, and is often diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40.
  • Genetics likely increase a person’s risk of having APS, although more research is needed to understand which specific genes are associated with that risk.
  • It is possible for some people to produce antibodies that attack phospholipids, but never develop blood clots. However, for people with these antibodies, a number of factors seem to be linked to an increased risk of developing blood clots, including smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, taking estrogens (birth control pills), extended periods of inactivity such as bed rest, and having an associated autoimmune disease like lupus.

Symptoms of Antiphospholipid Syndrome

The most significant symptom of APS is abnormal blood clotting. Some of the signs of blood clots include:

  • Pain
  • Redness, warmth, and swelling in the limbs
  • Chest pain and shortness of breath
  • Upper body discomfort in the arms, back, neck, and jaw
  • Speech changes

Every patient is different, and symptoms can sometimes be quite subtle, including headaches, changes in thinking, involuntary movements and vision loss. Patients have also been diagnosed after having abnormal lab tests (including tests for blood clotting, blood cell counts, and kidney function).

Make an Appointment

A doctor’s referral is recommended for new patients. Physicians can connect with the clinic by calling MLine, our 24/7 physician-to-physician portal, at 1-800-962-3555.

We recommend that new patients who are referred by doctors outside of Michigan Medicine bring copies of all laboratory and imaging tests to their first appointment. Access to the latest information allows us to develop a treatment plan as quickly as possible.

Existing patients who have questions about treatment or about scheduling or rescheduling appointments can phone the clinic directly at 1-888-229-3065.

To receive updates on our patient care and research efforts, please join our APS Program email list.