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Health A-Z

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Harvard Medical School

Symptoms

The symptoms of APS can include any of the following:

  • Nervous system. APS can cause:

      • Stroke

        • Slurred speech

        • Difficulty understanding or forming words

        • Change in vision

        • Weakness on one side of the body

      • Involuntary jerking movements of the arms or legs

      • Dementia

      • Migraines

      • Other problems of the nervous system

    In a form of APS called Sneddon's syndrome, people have repeated strokes. They also have a mottling of the skin that is lacy purple and white.

    Some people with APS develop a syndrome similar to multiple sclerosis. They can have:

      • Numbness

      • Double vision

      • Difficulty walking

      • Difficulty urinating

  • Heart and blood vessels. APS can lead to:

    • Heart attacks (Up to 20% of younger people who have a heart attack have antiphospholipid antibodies.)

      • Heart valve problems that can mimic bacterial endocarditis

      • Blood clots in the upper chambers of the heart

      • Deep vein thrombosis (blood clot in a vein) that can pain and swelling in a leg or arm

  • Blood cells. Some people with a condition called immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) have antiphospholipid antibodies. The primary problem in ITP is low platelets, the blood cells that aid clot formation and prevent excessive bleeding. Over time, some people with ITP develop APS. People with ITP and APS can have problems with excessive clotting and excessive bleeding.

    Also, red blood cells can break down abnormally. This may cause fatigue, dizziness and pale skin. This is more common in people with lupus and secondary APS.

  • Lung. Blood clots in the lung can cause:

    • Chest pain

    • Shortness of breath

    • Rapid breathing

    Repeated clots can cause elevated pressure in the blood vessels around the lungs. This may cause the person to be constantly short of breath.

  • Gastrointestinal. APS can affect the blood supply to the intestines, causing:

    • Abdominal pain

    • Fever

    • Blood in the stool

    APS can cause a condition called Budd-Chiari syndrome. In this syndrome, a blood clot prevents blood from flowing out of the liver. The person may experience:

    • Nausea

    • Vomiting

    • Jaundice (yellow skin)

    • Dark urine

    • Pale stool

    • Swelling of the abdomen

  • Kidneys. Blood clots that affect the kidneys can cause kidney damage and blood in the urine.

  • Skin. APS can cause:

    • Purple and white mottling of the skin

    • Repeated sores (ulcers)

    • Repeated bumps (nodules)

    • Tissue in the fingertips to die (gangrene)

  • Eyes. Veins or arteries in the retina can be affected. This can cause blurring or loss of vision.

  • Pregnancy. APS can cause problems for the fetus, such as:

    • Recurrent miscarriage which can occur early or late in pregnancy

    • A partial or complete separation of the placenta from the uterus before the baby is born

    • A small placenta

    • Premature birth

    It can cause problems for the pregnant woman such as stroke or blood clots in the lungs.

    APS may be associated with a syndrome of pregnancy known as HELLP. HELLP stands for hemolysis (breakdown of red blood cells), elevated liver tests and low platelets.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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