Haemophilia is a genetic condition that causes abnormal bleeding. If you have haemophilia, you will need treatment and ongoing care from a team of health professionals.
What is haemophilia?
Haemophilia is a bleeding disorder caused by a gene mutation. If you have haemophilia, your blood doesn’t clot properly, which makes it difficult to control bleeding.
When a blood vessel is injured, special proteins in your blood called ‘clotting factors’ act to control blood loss by plugging or patching up the injury. People with haemophilia have lower than normal levels of a clotting factor.
Types of haemophilia
There are two types of haemophilia.
- Haemophilia A (also called classical haemophilia) is the most common type. It is caused by lack of clotting factor 8, which results from a mutation in gene F8.
- Haemophilia B (sometimes called Christmas disease) is caused by lack of clotting factor 9, which results from a mutation in gene F9.
Some people have mild haemophilia, while others are more severely affected.
Symptoms or signs of haemophilia
Haemophilia is an inherited condition and occurs in families, but in one-third of cases it appears in families with no previous history of the disorder.
The main signs of haemophilia are:
- easy bruising from an early age
- internal bleeding for no obvious reason, especially in the joints and muscles
- greater than normal bleeding following injury or surgery
- abnormally heavy bleeding during menstruation or after giving birth
Although bleeding problems often start from a young age, some children don’t have symptoms until they begin walking or running. People with mild haemophilia may not bleed excessively until they get an injury or have surgery.
If haemophilia is suspected, blood tests can measure the levels of clotting factors. These tests can show the type and severity of the disease. Genetic testing can often confirm a diagnosis of haemophilia, although a gene mutation can’t always be found.
Living with haemophilia
Haemophilia can be complex to manage but it can be managed effectively with appropriate treatment.
When someone with haemophilia has a bleeding episode, treatment is needed to help their blood clot and stop the bleeding. This usually involves giving clotting factors by infusion or injection.
Complications of the disease also need to be managed, such as damage to joints and muscles that can result from bleeding into these areas.
Australian guidelines recommend that people with haemophilia receive care from a multidisciplinary team of health-care professionals, made up of doctors, nurses, medical scientists, physiotherapists, social workers and psychologists. If you are diagnosed with haemophilia, you should discuss with your doctor the benefits of referral to a haemophilia treatment centre, where a multidisciplinary team can provide you with comprehensive care.
Where to go for help?
Haemophilia Foundation Australia provides information and support for people with haemophilia.
Visit our genetic disorders guide to learn more about genes, types of genetic disorders and where to go for help and more information.
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Last reviewed: August 2018