Antiphospholipid syndrome (APS) is sometimes called Hughes’ syndrome. It is a disease that affects the blood and makes it more likely to clot than normal – a thrombophilia. This can lead to unwanted blood clots (called thromboses) forming within blood vessels.
APS can cause disability, serious illness and even death in a pregnant woman or her unborn baby if untreated. Unfortunately, it is a disease that is often under-recognised and under-diagnosed. This is probably because it can cause so many different problems, many of which have other, more common causes. Early diagnosis is important to try to prevent serious complications.
People with APS are often referred to and managed by a specialist, usually a haematologist (blood specialist) or rheumatologist (a specialist in bone, joint and soft-tissue disorders and certain autoimmune diseases).
Pregnant women with APS are at high risk of complications. If you are pregnant and have APS, you may need to have some of your antenatal care under the supervision of a consultant obstetrician.
APS is called an autoimmune condition – when the body’s normal defences begin to work against itself. The presence of the antiphospholipid antibodies causes the increased tendency of the blood to clot – they can trigger the coagulation cascade. The coagulation cascade is a chain reaction of events or chemical reactions that occur in the blood, leading to the formation of a blood clot. The antibodies can also cause inflammation which further increases the likelihood of the blood to clot.
In most people a certain event, such as pregnancy or an infection, provides a trigger for this chain of events in APS. Pregnancy itself (even without APS) makes a blood clot more likely to develop.