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HealthInfo Canterbury

Von Willebrand disease

Picture of woman with bleeding nose Von Willebrand disease (vWD) is a condition that affects your blood's ability to stick together (clot) when you bleed. It means you have low or no von Willebrand factor in your blood, which is needed to stick platelets together to help stop bleeding.

vWD is an inherited condition, which means it is passed on from your mother or father. Unlike haemophilia, vWD affects males and females equally.

Symptoms of von Willebrand disease

The symptoms of vWD can range from very mild and barely noticeable to frequent and severe. Sometimes vWD is not diagnosed until after you have minor surgery (such as a tooth removal), where the surgeon notices heavier or long-lasting bleeding.

The main symptoms of vWD are:

Some people have painful bleeding into muscles and joints, sometimes without obvious injury. This is known as internal bleeding and is more similar to haemophilia.

Diagnosing von Willebrand disease

If your GP thinks you might have a bleeding problem, they will refer you to a specialist (haematologist). They can do tests for disorders like vWD, such as checking how long you bleed before your blood clots.

Your doctor will want to know about your personal and family medical history, especially if anyone else in your family has a bleeding disorder.

Treating von Willebrand disease

Usually people with mild forms of vWD do not require special medicines unless they have surgery, dental work or an accident or injury.

Minor bleeding problems like bruising can be managed with the P.R.I.C.E approach (protect, rest, ice, compression and elevation).

You may need medicine to help stop bleeding. These include tranexamic acid, desmopressin and concentrated von Willebrand factor.

Self-care with von Willebrand disease

If you have vWD, it's a good idea to:

You can get information and help from the Haemophilia Foundation of New Zealand, which offers support, newsletters, camps, kids activities, education and advice.

Content shared between HealthInfo Canterbury, KidsHealth and Health Navigator NZ as part of a National Health Content Hub collaborative. Endorsed by clinical director, Haematology Department, Canterbury DHB. Page created May 2020.

Page reference: 696044

Review key: HIBLD-52881