Medical Author : Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor : Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
- Hemophilia is one of a group of inherited bleeding disorders that cause abnormal or exaggerated bleeding and poor blood clotting.
- Hemophilia A and B are inherited in an X-linked recessive genetic pattern, so males are commonly affected while females are usually carriers of the disease.
- Hemophilia A is caused by a deficiency of clotting Factor VIII, while hemophilia B (also called Christmas disease) results from a deficiency of Factor IX.
- Hemophilia varies in its severity among affected individuals.
- Symptoms include excessive bleeding from any site in the body; long-term damage to joints from repeated bleeding episodes is characteristic.
- Treatment involves coagulation factor replacement therapy.
- The formation of inhibitors to the treatment factor concentrates is a significant complication of treatment.
- Gene therapy treatments are a source of active research and hold promise for the future.
What is hemophilia?
Hemophilia is not one disease but rather one of a group of inherited bleeding disorders that cause abnormal or exaggerated bleeding and poor blood clotting. The term is most commonly used to refer to two specific conditions known as hemophilia A and hemophilia B, which will be the main subjects of this article. Hemophilia A and B are distinguished by the specific gene that is mutated (altered to become defective) and codes for a defective clotting factor (protein) in each disease. Rarely, hemophilia C is encountered, but its effect on clotting is far less pronounced than A or B.
Hemophilia A and B are inherited in an X-linked recessive genetic pattern and are therefore much more common in males. This pattern of inheritance means that a given gene on the X chromosome expresses itself only when there is no normal gene present. For example, a boy has only one X chromosome, so a boy with hemophilia has the defective gene on his sole X chromosome (and so is said to be hemizygous for hemophilia). Hemophilia is the most common X-linked genetic disease.
Although it is much rarer, a girl can have hemophilia, but she would have to have the defective gene on both of her X chromosomes or have one hemophilia gene plus a lost or defective copy of the second X chromosome that should be carrying the normal genes. If a girl has one copy of the defective gene on one of her X chromosomes and a normal second X chromosome, she does not have hemophilia but is said to be heterozygous for hemophilia (a carrier). Her male children have a 50% chance of inheriting the one mutated X gene and thus has a 50% chance of inheriting hemophilia from their carrier mother.
Hemophilia A occurs in about 1 out of every 5000 live male births. Hemoplilia A and B occurs in all racial groups. Hemophilia A is about four times more common than B; B occurs in about 1 out of 20- 34,000 live male births.
Hemophilia has been called the Royal Disease because Queen Victoria, Queen of England from 1837 to 1901, was a carrier. Her daughters passed the mutated gene on to members of the royal families of Germany, Spain, and Russia. Alexandra, Queen Victoria's granddaughter, who became Tsarina of Russia in the early 20th century when she married Tsar Nicholas II, was a carrier. Their son, the Tsarevich Alexei, suffered from hemophilia.
What causes hemophilia?
As mentioned above, hemophilia is caused by a genetic mutation. The mutations involve genes that code for proteins that are essential in the blood clotting process. The bleeding symptoms arise because blood clotting is impaired.
The process of blood clotting involves a series of complex mechanisms, usually involving 13 different proteins classically termed factors I through XIII and written with Roman numerals. If the lining of the blood vessels becomes damaged, platelets are recruited to the injured area to form an initial plug. These activated platelets release chemicals that start the clotting cascade, activating a series of 13 proteins known as clotting factors. Ultimately, fibrin is formed, the protein that crosslinks with itself to form a mesh that makes up the final blood clot. The protein involved with hemophilia A is factor VIII (factor 8) and with hemophilia B is factor IX (factor 9).
Hemophilia A is caused by a mutation in the gene for factor VIII, so there is deficiency of this clotting factor. Hemophilia B (also called Christmas disease) results from a deficiency of factor IX due to a mutation in the corresponding gene.
A condition referred to as hemophilia C involves a deficiency of clotting factor XI. This condition is much rarer than hemophilia A and B and typically leads to mild symptoms. It is also not inherited in an X-linked manner and affects persons of both sexes.
Hemophilia A is more common than hemophilia B. About 80% of people with hemophilia have hemophilia A. Hemophilia B occurs in about 1 out of every 25,000 to 30,000 people. A subgroup of those with hemophilia B has the so-called Leyden phenotype, which is characterized by a severe hemophilia in childhood that improves at puberty.
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