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What is Antiphospholipid Syndrome?

This is the question on everybody's lips the first time a doctor tells them that they have Antiphospholipid Syndrome or APS for short.

APS is also known as Hughes Syndrome, so named after Professor Graham Hughes who was the first to fully describe this syndrome. In the 1980's Professor Hughes and his team described the group of clinical features that characterise the Antiphospholipid Syndrome. They found that the tendency for the blood to clot or become 'sticky' was associated with certain antibodies. This discovery led to the standardisation of the blood tests needed to diagnose the syndrome.

APS is an autoimmune disease, which means that instead of your antibodies sticking to attacking flu and measles, they are attacking you. Autoimmunity is medically explained as a condition in which a person’s body makes antibodies against its own cells. There are many types of autoimmune disorders and many of their symptoms are similar; therefore, it is sometimes difficult to diagnose any of these disorders.

In a person with APS, these antibodies attack the blood platelets and cause them to become too sticky and more likely to clot together.

Healthy people have blood that clots, it is necessary for healing wounds, but in APS this mechanism goes into overdrive. Professor Hughes compares the ‘sticky’ blood to a car engine running on a too rich mix of petrol. It stutters and gets chocked up. Since your blood is needed by every area in your body to supply oxygen, APS can affect almost any part of the body, which is why it presents with such strange and varied symptoms.

It is not really known why some people develop autoimmune diseases such as APS. There may be a trigger, such as a virus attack or a shock of some sort and there may also be a hereditary case. Hormones, whether natural or in tablet form can seem to aggravate sticky blood. Therefore, the contraception pill is not recommended for women with Hughes Syndrome.

Most of those diagnosed with APS are young females. Most of them seem to be in their 30s and 40s yet we have seen some as young as those in their teens as well as some that are in their 70s or 80s.

It is not confined to women, we have known lots of men with APS. Men with Hughes Syndrome are outnumbered by women, perhaps due to the hormonal changes women experience.

This article is intended to inform and give insight but not treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a doctor. Always seek medical advice with any questions regarding a medical condition.

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