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A bleeding disorder is a condition that affects the way your blood normally clots. The clotting process, also known as coagulation, changes blood from a liquid to a solid. When you’re injured, your blood normally begins to clot to prevent a massive loss of blood. Sometimes, certain conditions prevent blood from clotting properly, which can result in heavy or prolonged bleeding.
Bleeding disorders can cause abnormal bleeding both outside and inside the body. Some disorders can drastically increase the amount of blood leaving your body. Others cause bleeding to occur under the skin or in vital organs, such as the brain.
Bleeding disorders often develop when the blood can’t clot properly. For blood to clot, your body needs blood proteins called clotting factors and blood cells called platelets. Normally, platelets clump together to form a plug at the site of a damaged or injured blood vessel. The clotting factors then come together to form a fibrin clot. This keeps the platelets in place and prevents blood from flowing out of the blood vessel.
In people with bleeding disorders, however, the clotting factors or platelets don’t work the way they should or are in short supply. When the blood doesn’t clot, excessive or prolonged bleeding can occur. It can also lead to spontaneous or sudden bleeding in your muscles, joints, or other parts of your body.
The majority of bleeding disorders are inherited, which means they’re passed from a parent to their child. However, some disorders may develop as a result of other medical conditions, such as liver disease.
Bleeding disorders may also be caused by:
Medications that can interfere with the clotting of the blood are called anticoagulants.
Bleeding disorders can be inherited or acquired. Inherited disorders are passed down through genetics. Acquired disorders can develop or spontaneously occur later in life. Some bleeding disorders can result in severe bleeding following an accident or injury. In other disorders, heavy bleeding can happen suddenly and for no reason.
There are numerous different bleeding disorders, but the following are the most common ones:
The symptoms can vary depending on the specific type of bleeding disorder. However, the main signs include:
Schedule an appointment with your doctor right away if you have one or more of these symptoms. Your doctor can diagnose your condition and help to prevent complications associated with certain blood disorders.
To diagnose a bleeding disorder, your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and medical history. They will also perform a physical examination. During your appointment, make sure to mention:
After gathering this information, your doctor will run blood tests to make a proper diagnosis. These tests may include:
Treatment options vary depending on the type of bleeding disorder and its severity. Though treatments can’t cure bleeding disorders, they can help relieve the symptoms associated with certain disorders.
Your doctor may prescribe iron supplements to replenish the amount of iron in your body if you have significant blood loss. A low iron level can result in iron deficiency anemia. This condition can make you feel weak, tired, and dizzy. You may need a blood transfusion if symptoms don’t improve with iron supplementation.
A blood transfusion replaces any lost blood with blood taken from a donor. The donor blood has to match your blood type to prevent complications. This procedure can only be done in the hospital.
Some bleeding disorders may be treated with topical products or nasal sprays. Other disorders, including hemophilia, can be treated with factor replacement therapy. This involves injecting clotting factor concentrates into your bloodstream. These injections can prevent or control excessive bleeding.
You can also get fresh frozen plasma transfusions if you lack certain clotting factors. Fresh frozen plasma contains factors V and VIII, which are two important proteins that help with blood clotting. These transfusions must be done in a hospital.
Most complications associated with bleeding disorders can be prevented or controlled with treatment. However, it’s important to get treatment as soon as possible. Complications often occur when bleeding disorders are treated too late.
Common complications of bleeding disorders include:
Complications can also arise if the disorder is severe or causes excessive blood loss. Bleeding disorders can be particularly dangerous for women, especially if they’re not treated quickly. Untreated bleeding disorders increase the risk of excessive bleeding during childbirth, a miscarriage, or an abortion. Women with bleeding disorders may also experience very heavy menstrual bleeding. This can lead to anemia, a condition that occurs when your body doesn’t produce enough red blood cells to carry oxygen to your tissues. Anemia can cause weakness, shortness of breath, and dizziness.
It’s important to call your doctor right away if you have any symptoms of a bleeding disorder. Getting prompt treatment will help prevent any potential complications.
Written by: April Kahn
Medically reviewed on: Dec 03, 2015: Steven Kim, MD
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