Many women may describe motherhood as a life-changing event. But my experience was slightly different: The birth of my beautiful baby boy, Lynden, impacted my life in a way I could have never imagined. Thanks to him, I was finally given the answer to a lifelong medical mystery.
Shortly after Lynden's birth I was diagnosed with von Willebrand disease (VWD), a hereditary bleeding disorder that I had unknowingly struggled with my whole life. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, VWD may affect 1 percent of the population, and it can have real health consequences for women who go undiagnosed. The condition puts us at a greater risk for life-threatening bleeding following childbirth and for undergoing unnecessary hysterectomies.
Despite the condition's prevalence, the five common signs and symptoms go unnoticed or misdiagnosed. I experienced most of the signs and symptoms throughout childhood and up until diagnosis, including: easy bruising, frequent or prolonged nosebleeds, heavy, prolonged menstruation, prolonged bleeding during dental procedures, and prolonged bleeding following injury, childbirth or surgery.
Looking back on my childhood, I recall that a routine bump to my arm or leg would leave a severe bruise. I can also remember playing freeze tag or swinging on a jungle gym when a sudden, uncontrollable nosebleed would strike. These events, which I'd always thought were "normal," would send me rushing to the nurse's office for another all-too-frequent visit. I simply learned to live with them and avoided activities that could lead to a bump or bleed. It never occurred to me that something was very, very wrong.
Fast forward to 1995 and the birth of my son, Lynden. Almost immediately after birth, he began displaying the same bleeding patterns that I had as a child. Sure enough, he was diagnosed at 11 months old with Hemophilia A and VWD. My son's hematologist explained that bleeding disorders are hereditary and urged me to undergo testing. Well, it turned out that I, too, had VWD. I don't know if most people would feel a sigh of relief after being diagnosed with a bleeding disorder, but for me, it was a long overdue explanation of what I had been dealing with my entire life!
My son's birth provided me not only with a level of joy and love that I never could have imagined, but with a name to the condition I had been silently dealing with for 32 years. Although VWD can't be cured, it can be effectively treated and controlled. Now I enjoy every day, engaging in normal activities with my family. I've even taken back up my childhood passion -- horseback riding!
Recognizing and understanding the symptoms of a bleeding disorder such as VWD is crucial. Listen to your body. Unexplained bleeding or bruising is not normal, and if you are experiencing the signs and symptoms of VWD, please speak with your health care provider.
To learn more about von Willebrand disease, visit www.HealthyWomen.org.