What is von Willebrand disease?

Von Willebrand disease (VWD) is a bleeding disorder in which your blood has trouble clotting. It is inherited, meaning it is passed down from parents to their children.

People with von Willebrand disease sometimes experience heavier-than-normal bleeding from injury, surgery, and, in women, menstrual flow and childbirth. This bleeding can cause health problems including pain and anemia (low number of red blood cells). In rare cases, the bleeding can lead to death.

How common is von Willebrand disease?

Von Willebrand disease is the most common type of bleeding disorder in the U.S. It is similar to another blood disorder called hemophilia, though it is usually less severe than hemophilia. Von Willebrand disease affects 1% of the U.S. population. It occurs in both males and females.

What causes von Willebrand disease?

Problems with a protein in the blood cause von Willebrand disease. This protein, known as von Willebrand factor (VWF), helps the blood clot.

In some cases, the blood has too little VWF. In others, the protein has a defect. In both of these scenarios the ability of the blood to clot properly is impaired. A variety of gene mutations cause either a reduced production of VWF or production of an abnormally functioning VWF. Although the cause of these mutations is unknown, the abnormal gene is passed from one generation to another.

What are the symptoms of von Willebrand disease?

Many people with von Willebrand disease have mild cases and no symptoms. Symptoms in more severe cases include:

  • Heavy bleeding after injury or surgery
  • Easy bruising
  • Frequent nosebleeds
  • Heavy menstrual bleeding in women
  • Long-lasting bleeding of the gums after dental work
  • Blood in the stool or urine

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy