Signs and Symptoms of von Willebrand Disease

My grandmother, mother, and sisters all have very heavy periods that last for several days. They often cannot go to school or work on those days. Since this runs in the family, it’s probably normal and not something I need to ask my doctor about—right?

Many women believe that long-lasting, heavy periods are normal, especially when other women in the family have the same symptoms, but such periods are not normal. Many physicians are not familiar with von Willebrand disease and consider heavy menstrual bleeding to be a gynecologic rather than a hematologic problem.

If you think you have abnormally heavy or long-lasting periods, ask your doctor about screening you for bleeding disorders, and specifically for von Willebrand disease.

My friend told me that my excessively heavy periods might be related to von Willebrand disease, but when I asked my gynecologist, she said I cannot have a bleeding disorder because I’ve had two kids without complications or abnormal bleeding. What should I do?

Your body’s production of von Willebrand factor changes depending on all sorts of conditions. Stressful situations, hormone levels during pregnancy, and the use of oral contraceptives increase the production of von Willebrand factor 2 to 3 fold and reduce the chances of abnormal bleeding during periods, pregnancy (especially in later trimesters), and labor.

Pregnant women with von Willebrand disease often have less bleeding symptoms during pregnancy and delivery, but may experience bleeding problems after delivery when levels fall. Breastfeeding helps maintain a higher von Willebrand factor level; therefore, breastfeeding is encouraged not only for the health of the infant but also for decreasing maternal risk of bleeding after delivery.

If you think you have symptoms related to von Willebrand disease, it is important to rule out the diagnosis. Call us or visit Project Red Flag for more information.