When people think of blood clotting disorders, Factor V (“Five”) Leiden isn’t the first one that comes to mind. But it could be more common than you think.
As many as 3-8 percent of all people who have European roots carry the gene mutation, and it is the most common inherited blood clotting disorder, also known as thrombophilia. It is rare in African-Americans and Asians.
With Factor V Leiden thrombophilia, your blood has a tendency to form abnormal blood clots that can block your blood vessels. Though Factor V Leiden doesn’t automatically cause blood clots, it does increase any existing risk factors you already have. There are many risk factors but the more common ones include cancer, prolonged immobilization, following surgery, pregnancy, hormone therapy, injury or trauma. Anyone who has increased risk factors should talk with their doctor about how to improve their odds to keep healthy blood flowing smoothly.
Your blood has substances in it that help you stop bleeding when you cut yourself or you get injured. These substances are not supposed to clump up in the arteries or the veins under normal circumstances, though. The faulty gene in Factor V Leiden increases the likelihood that clots can form in blood vessels where they are not wanted.
Blood clots that form in blood vessels can be dangerous when they block blood flow to the legs (deep venous thrombosis) or break off and travel to the lungs where they can cause a pulmonary embolism, a medical emergency.
Not all people who have Factor V Leiden develop blood clots. In fact, only 10 percent of all those with the disorder ever experience any blood clotting problems.
John R. Bartholomew, MD, Section Head of Vascular Medicine and Director of the Thrombosis Center at Cleveland Clinic, says that patients should keep news about the mysterious-sounding disorder in perspective. “Factor V Leiden is a relatively uncommon condition even among the population group most often affected by it,” he said.
Though you are unlikely to have the pair of genes that cause Factor V Leiden, it’s always a good idea to assess your risk factor for cardiovascular problems.
Some things that increase your risk for blood clots are beyond your control, such as recovering from surgery, having certain diseases or being injured, but other risk factors are within your control.
Dr. Bartholomew says, “Everyone should act to eliminate any risk factors that are under their control, namely quitting smoking, losing weight, and being physically active. This is especially important for patients who have thrombophilia. They should also notify all of their doctors if they have this condition.”
Factor V Leiden provides a good reminder to people to pay attention to the risk of blood clots, and how important it is to help avoid them by changing some bad habits, exchanging them for healthy ones instead.