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Antiphospholipid syndrome

Antiphospholipid antibody syndrome, Hughes syndrome

Overview

Antiphospholipid syndrome is an autoimmune, hypercoagulable state caused by antiphospholipid antibodies. APS provokes blood clots (thrombosis) in both arteries and veins as well as pregnancy-related complications such as miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm delivery, and severe preeclampsia.

Symptoms - Antiphospholipid syndrome

Antiphospholipid syndrome can cause arterial or venous blood clots, in any organ system, or pregnancy-related complications. In APS patients, the most common venous event is deep vein thrombosis of the lower extremities, and the most common arterial event is stroke. In pregnant women affected by APS, there is an increased risk of recurrent miscarriage, intrauterine growth restriction, and preterm birth. A frequent cause of such complications is placental infarctions. In some cases, APS seems to be the leading cause of mental and/or development retardation in the newborn, due to an aPL-induced inhibition of trophoblast differentiation. The antiphospholipid syndrome responsible for most of the miscarriages in later trimesters seen in concomitant systemic lupus erythematosus and pregnancy.

Other common findings, although not part of the APS classification criteria, are low platelet count, heart valve disease, and livedo reticularis. There are also associations between antiphospholipid antibodies and headaches, migraines, and oscillopsia. Some studies have shown the presence of antiphospholipid antibodies in the blood and spinal fluid of patients with psychological symptoms.

Very few patients with primary APS go on to develop SLE.

Causes - Antiphospholipid syndrome

Antiphospholipid syndrome is an autoimmune disease, in which "antiphospholipid antibodies" (anticardiolipin antibodies and lupus anticoagulant) react against proteins that bind to anionic phospholipids on plasma membranes. Like many autoimmune diseases, it is more common in women than in men. The exact cause is not known, but activation of the system of coagulation is evident. Clinically important antiphospholipid antibodies (those that arise as a result of the autoimmune process) are associated with thrombosis and vascular disease. The syndrome can be divided into primary (no underlying disease state) and secondary (in association with an underlying disease state) forms.

Anti-ApoH and a subset of anti-cardiolipin antibodies bind to ApoH, which in turn inhibits Protein C, a glycoprotein with regulatory function upon the common pathway of coagulation (by degradating activated factor V).

Lupus anticoagulant (LAC) antibodies bind to prothrombin, thus increasing its cleavage to thrombin, its active form.

In APS there are also antibodies binding to Protein S, which is a co-factor of protein C. Thus, anti-protein S antibodies decrease protein C efficiency.

Annexin A5 forms a shield around negatively charged phospholipid molecules, thus reducing their availability for coagulation. Thus, anti-annexin A5 antibodies increase phospholipid-dependent coagulation steps.

The Lupus anticoagulant antibodies are those that show the closest association with thrombosis, those that target β2glycoprotein 1 have a greater association with thrombosis than those that target prothrombin. Anticardiolipin antibodies are associated with thrombosis at moderate to high titres (>40 GPLU or MPLU). Patients with both Lupus anticoagulant antibodies and moderate/high titre anticardiolipin antibodies show a greater risk of thrombosis than with one alone.

The increased risks of recurrent miscarriage, intrauterine growth restriction and preterm birth by antiphospholipid antibodies, as supported by in vitro studies, include decreased trophoblast viability, syncytialization and invasion, deranged production of hormones and signalling molecules by trophoblasts, as well as activation of coagulation and complement pathways.

Prevention - Antiphospholipid syndrome

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Diagnosis - Antiphospholipid syndrome

Antiphospholipid syndrome is tested for in the laboratory using both liquid phase coagulation assays (lupus anticoagulant) and solid phase ELISA assays (anti-cardiolipin antibodies).

Genetic thrombophilia is part of the differential diagnosis of APS and can coexist in some APS patients. Presence of genetic thrombophilia may determine the need for anticoagulation therapy. Thus genetic thrombophilia screening can consist of:

  • Further studies for Factor V Leiden variant and the prothrombin G20210A mutation, Factor VIII levels, MTHFR mutation.
  • Levels of protein C, free and total protein S, Factor VIII, antithrombin, plasminogen, tissue plasminogen activator (TPA) and plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 (PAI-1)

The testing of antibodies to the possible individual targets of aPL such as β2 glycoprotein 1 and antiphosphatidyl serine is currently under debate as testing for anticardiolipin appears to be currently sensitive and specific for diagnosis of APS even though cardiolipin is not considered an in vivo target for antiphospholipid antibodies.

Lupus anticoagulant

This is tested for by using a minimum of two coagulation tests that are phospholipid sensitive, due to the heterogeneous nature of the lupus anticoagulant antibodies. The patient on initial screening will typically have been found to have a prolonged APTT that does not correct in an 80:20 mixture with normal human plasma (50:50 mixes with normal plasma are insensitive to all but the highest antibody levels). The APTT (plus 80:20 mix), dilute Russell's viper venom time (DRVVT), the kaolin clotting time (KCT), dilute thromboplastin time (TDT/DTT) or prothrombin time (using a lupus sensitive thromboplastin) are the principal tests used for the detection of lupus anticoagulant. These tests must be carried out on a minimum of two occasions at least 6 weeks apart and be positive on each occasion demonstrating persistent positivity to allow a diagnosis of antiphospholipid syndrome. This is to prevent patients with transient positive tests (due to infection etc.) being diagnosed as positive.

Distinguishing a lupus antibody from a specific coagulation factor inhibitor (e.g.: Factor VIII). This is normally achieved by differentiating the effects of a lupus anticoagulant on factor assays from the effects of a specific coagulation factor antibody. The lupus anticoagulant will inhibit all the contact activation pathway factors (Factor VIII, Factor IX, Factor XI and Factor XII). Lupus anticoagulant will also rarely cause a factor assay to give a result lower than 35 iu/dl (35%) whereas a specific factor antibody will rarely give a result higher than 10 iu/dl (10%). Monitoring IV anticoagulant therapy by the APTT ratio is compromised due to the effects of the lupus anticoagulant and in these situations is generally best performed using a chromogenic assay based on the inhibition of Factor Xa by antithrombin in the presence of heparin.

Anticardiolipin antibodies

These can be detected using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) immunological test, which screens for the presence of β2glycoprotein 1 dependent anticardiolipin antibodies (ACA).

A low platelet count and positivity for antibodies against β2-glycoprotein 1 or phosphatidylserine may also be observed in a positive diagnosis.

Prognosis - Antiphospholipid syndrome

The long-term prognosis for APS is determined mainly by recurrent thrombosis, which may occur in up to 29% of patients, sometimes despite antithrombotic therapy.

Treatment - Antiphospholipid syndrome

Often, this disease is treated by giving aspirin to inhibit platelet activation, and/or warfarin as an anticoagulant. The goal of the prophylactic treatment with warfarin is to maintain the patient's INR between 2.0 and 3.0.It is not usually done in patients who have had no thrombotic symptoms.Anticoagulation appears to prevent miscarriage in pregnant women. In pregnancy, low molecular weight heparin and low-dose aspirin are used instead of warfarin because of warfarin's teratogenicity. Women with recurrent miscarriage are often advised to take aspirin and to start low molecular weight heparin treatment after missing a menstrual cycle. In refractory cases plasmapheresis may be used.

Resources - Antiphospholipid syndrome

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