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What Is Antiphospholipid Syndrome?

Antiphospholipid syndrome is an autoimmune condition that increases the risk of excessive blood clotting. The elevated risk is due to the presence of certain proteins (antiphospholipid autoantibodies) in the blood. Researchers believe the production of these autoantibodies may be triggered by an environmental factor, such as an infection, in an individual who has a genetic predisposition to developing the condition, which is often associated with connective tissue diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus.

What Are the Effects of Antiphospholipid Syndrome?

Antiphospholipid autoantibodies may be present in the bloodstream for a long time without causing any excessive clotting. Most thrombotic events occur only if other conditions that increase the risk of blood clotting are present, such as prolonged inactivity. Other risk factors for thrombosis include hypertension, obesity, smoking and atherosclerosis.

Blood clots associated with antiphospholipid syndrome can occur anywhere within the circulatory system and can potentially affect any organ in the body. The resulting effects can vary depending on the location of a clot. For instance, blood clots in the arteries in the heart can lead to heart attacks, while blood clots in the arteries in the brain can lead to strokes. During pregnancy, the formation of blood clots in the placenta can lead to miscarriages.

Venous blood clots occur most frequently in the lower legs. These clots can potentially break away, travel to the lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism, a serious and possible life-threatening condition that can disrupt blood flow to the lung and reduce the amount of oxygen in the blood.

How Is Antiphospholipid Syndrome Treated?

In most cases, antiphospholipid autoantibodies are tested and detected only after a clotting event occurs. Therefore, the main goal of treatment is to prevent recurrences. Acute thrombotic events are usually treated with anticoagulants, initially with heparin and later with oral anticoagulants such as warfarin. In serious situations, a clot-dissolving medication may be given to break-down blood clots quickly.

Long-term oral anticoagulant therapy for antiphospholipid syndrome can affect a patient’s lifestyle, and the blood-thinning effects of the medication must be monitored by a physician on an ongoing basis. It is also important to manage the conventional risk factors for thrombosis, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and smoking.

If you’d like to meet with a rheumatologist at Advanced Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine to explore your options for managing antiphospholipid syndrome, contact us to request an appointment at our state-of-the-art orthopedic institute in Houston, Texas.

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