Significance of Antiphospholipid Syndrome (APS) and its impacts


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Antiphospholipid Syndrome (APS) is a rare autoimmune disorder characterized by recurring blood clots. Blood clots can form in any blood vessel of the body. The specific symptoms and severity of APS vary greatly from person to person depending upon the exact location of a blood clot and the organ system affected. APS may occur as an isolated disorder (primary antiphospholipid syndrome) or may occur along with another autoimmune disorder such as systemic lupus erythematosus (secondary antiphospholipid syndrome).

APS is characterized by the presence of antiphospholipid antibodies in the body. Antibodies are specialized proteins produced by the body’s immune system to fight infection. In individuals with APS, certain antibodies mistakenly attack healthy tissue. In APS, antibodies mistakenly attack certain proteins that bind to phospholipids, which are fat molecules that are involved in the proper function of cell membranes. Phospholipids are found throughout the body. The reason these antibodies attack these proteins and the process by which they cause blood clots to form is not known.

Signs & Symptoms

The specific symptoms associated with antiphospholipid syndrome are related to the presence and location of blood clots. Blood clots can form in any blood vessel of the body. Clots are twice as likely to form in vessels that carry blood to the heart as in vessels that carry blood away from the heart. Any organ system of the body can become involved. The lower limbs, lungs and brain are affected most often. APS also causes significant complications during pregnancy.

The severity of APS varies, ranging from minor blood clots that cause few problems to an extremely rare form in which multiple clots form throughout the body. However, in most cases, blood clots will only develop at one site.

When blood clots affect the flow of blood to the brain a variety of issues can development including serious complications such as stroke or stroke-like episodes known as transient ischemic attacks. Less frequently, seizures or unusual shaking or involuntary muscle movements may occur.

Blood clots in large, deep veins are referred to as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). The most common site of DVT is the legs, which can become painful and swollen. In some cases, a piece of the blood clot may break off, travel in the bloodstream, and become lodged in the lungs. This is referred to as pulmonary embolism. Pulmonary embolism may cause breathlessness, a sudden pain the chest, exhaustion, high blood pressure of the pulmonary arteries, or sudden death.

Skin rashes and other skin diseases may occur in people with APS. These include blotchy reddish patches of discolored skin, a condition known as livedo reticularis. In some cases, sores may form on the legs. Lack of blood flow to the extremities can cause loss of living tissue, especially in the fingers or toes.