Stroke & Vascular Disorders
Aug. 19, 2022
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Antiphospholipid syndrome is a coagulopathy affecting multiple organ systems. It should be suspected in young patients, presenting with unexplained venous thrombosis, arterial infarcts, and/or miscarriages. A fulminant form of widespread coagulopathy may complicate some cases. The cornerstone of therapy is anticoagulation. In this article, the authors provide a comprehensive review of the disorder, including clinical manifestations, pathogenesis, and management.
• Antiphospholipid antibody syndrome is a hypercoagulable state associated with persistent antiphospholipid antibodies.
• Cerebral arteries are a common site of thrombosis.
• Screening for antiphospholipid antibodies is recommended in young patients presenting with unexplained ischemic strokes or recurrent miscarriages.
• Catastrophic antiphospholipid syndrome is a rare, but life threatening, presentation with simultaneous involvement of multiple organ systems.
• Antiplatelets and anticoagulation are the mainstay treatments for thrombotic complications, with a potential role of various immunosuppressants in some complicated cases.
Screening for syphilis has revealed false positive tests often associated with other infections (Moore and Mohr 1952). Some of the individuals later developed systemic lupus erythematosus (73). Moreover, patients with systemic lupus erythematosus had circulating antibodies associated with thromboembolism (15). These antibodies were named “lupus anticoagulant” because of the associated elevation of activated partial thromboplastin time (aPTT) (41). Later, lupus anticoagulant was linked to recurrent abortion (75).
Thrombosis associated with anticardiolipin antibodies was described as antiphospholipid syndrome (55). Anticardiolipin antibodies bind to cardiolipin only in the presence of β2-glycoprotein 1 (β2GPI), an inhibitor of platelet activation and coagulation (47; 68). Anticardiolipin antibodies from patients with systemic lupus erythematous, but not from patients with infections, require β2GPI to bind to cardiolipin (56). Currently, lupus anticoagulant, anticardiolipin, and anti-β2GPI are all considered to be pathogenic within the clinical spectrum of antiphospholipid syndrome.
Antiphospholipid syndrome is associated with recurrent arterial or venous thrombosis, spontaneous abortion, and thrombocytopenia in patients with moderate to high titers of antiphospholipid measured twice at 12 weeks apart. It can be divided into 2 subtypes:
• Primary antiphospholipid syndrome in the absence of autoimmune disorders
• Antiphospholipid syndrome presents as thrombosis in presence of persistent titers of aPL.
• The most involved systems are the hematologic, nervous, cardiac, dermatologic, pulmonary renal, and gynecologic.
• Catastrophic antiphospholipid syndrome is characterized by simultaneous thrombosis of at least 3 organs or systems.
Most antiphospholipid syndrome manifestations are attributed to vascular thrombosis.
Nervous system. Arterial thrombosis occurs most commonly in the cerebral circulation (51). Stroke and transient ischemic attack were among the most common manifestations in the “Euro-Phospholipid” cohort (20). However, in the Physicians' Health Study, which enrolled 22,071 male patients, high titers and anticardiolipin IgG above the 95th percentile are associated with pulmonary embolism and venous thromboembolism but not ischemic stroke (50).
Cerebral venous sinus thrombosis is another complication (26). Embolism from large extracranial vessels, valvular vegetations, endocarditis, and intracardiac thrombi may also occur. Screening for antiphospholipid antibodies is recommended in young adults (< 50 years) with ischemic stroke (57).
Other neurologic conditions associated with antiphospholipids include autoimmune chorea, migraine headaches, encephalopathy, seizures, dementia, Guillain-Barre syndrome, psychosis, and transverse myelopathy (22; 79; 77; 53).
Heart. Mural thrombosis, micro thrombi, and coronary artery disease may be manifestations of antiphospholipid syndrome.
Noninfectious endocarditis, valvular vegetations, stenosis, and regurgitation have been associated with both systemic lupus erythematosus and antiphospholipid syndrome. Antiphospholipid syndrome was found in 15.5% of patients with myocardial infarction with nonobstructive coronary arteries (100).
Skin. Livedo reticularis and livedo vasculitis are the best described skin lesions. Others include thrombophlebitis, ulcerations, digital gangrenes, and splinter-hemorrhages. The latter are, however, not considered diagnostic.
Kidney. Thrombosis of renal vein, renal artery, renal infarction, and antiphospholipid antibody nephropathy are included in this category. Antiphospholipid-associated nephropathy is a thrombotic microangiopathy involving arterioles and glomerular capillaries and may result in acute renal failure. Chronic renal failure, acute renal failure, hematuria, and proteinuria are directly related to antiphospholipid syndrome if they result from the thrombotic events described above.
Lungs. The most common manifestations include pulmonary embolism and pulmonary arterial thrombosis. Nonthrombotic vasculopathy and pulmonary hypertension have been reported as well.
Gastrointestinal system. The gastrointestinal manifestations include Budd-Chiari syndrome, portal and mesenteric vein thrombosis, ischemic colitis, and splenic/hepatic/intestinal infarctions. Other complications include esophageal and colon perforation and cholecystitis.
Blood. The commonest manifestation, thrombocytopenia due to splenic sequestration, rarely leads to bleeding. Similar mechanisms lead to hemolytic anemia and hypoprothrombinemia, which are suspected if there is prolonged bleeding time and are confirmed by deceased prothrombin levels.
Other arteriovenous manifestations. Other manifestations include thrombosis of aorta, axillary, ileo-femoral, and popliteal arteries. Venous thromboses are especially common as deep venous thrombosis of the leg. Other venous systems include adrenal vein and inferior venous cava.
Obstetric complications. The obstetric complications are recurrent miscarriage before the tenth week of gestation, loss of a morphologically normal fetus after the tenth week of gestation in the absence of other maternal/fetal chromosomal abnormalities or maternal anatomic abnormalities, and placental insufficiency leading to preeclampsia and/or intrauterine growth retardation and preterm delivery. Although reported, maternal thrombocytopenia is a relatively rare manifestation of antiphospholipid syndrome.
Catastrophic antiphospholipid syndrome (CAPS). Antiphospholipid syndrome typically presents as a single event involving one organ system. Although future episodes may involve other systems, every episode is usually isolated to that system. However, less than 1% of antiphospholipid syndrome patients present with thrombosis in multiple organs, a condition defined as catastrophic antiphospholipid syndrome (CAPS). The criteria for the diagnosis of CAPS are as follows (07; 23):
• Involvement of ≥ 3 organ systems
The clinical presentation of CAPS includes respiratory failure, stroke, renal impairment, and cutaneous manifestations and follows a fulminant course. The most involved systems include renal, pulmonary, neurologic, cardiac, and cutaneous (05). Thrombosis of the microvasculature of these systems is the unifying pathological feature (08). The precipitating events are infections, surgery, or drugs. Disseminated intravascular coagulation, an unusual manifestation of isolated antiphospholipid syndrome, has been frequently associated with CAPS, probably secondary to widespread thrombotic activation.
Other presentations. Although not widely accepted, antiphospholipid syndrome may manifest in two other forms: pre-antiphospholipid syndrome and microangiopathic antiphospholipid syndrome (MAPS).
Pre-antiphospholipid syndrome is a condition that may presage the development of antiphospholipid syndrome: livedo reticularis, chorea, thrombocytopenia, fetal loss, or valve lesions (06).
MAPS describes microvascular occlusions associated with antiphospholipid antibodies that share common triggers like infection or drugs, and that have similar clinical as well as hematological features such as thrombocytopenia, hemolytic anemia, thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP), hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS), and HELLP syndrome (06).
The prognosis of antiphospholipid syndrome depends on the type of vessel and distribution of vascular territory involved. The risk of recurrent thrombotic event is 91% of cases in the initial vascular type (91). The risk of recurrence depends on anticoagulation and target international normalized ratio achievement, but patients with refractory antiphospholipid syndrome usually have a very grim prognosis. Screening for antiphospholipid syndrome in women of childbearing age with arterial or venous events is important because of the increased risk of fetal loss or late pregnancy complications. Lastly, it is important to have a high index of suspicion for CAPS as it can approach 50% mortality (07; 36).
High titers of IgM anticardiolipin antibodies correlate National Institutes of Health stroke scale acutely, and higher IgG anticardiolipin antibody titers with disability at three months (90).
Complications of antiphospholipid syndrome are associated with the primary presentation. Arterial strokes increase the risk of deep venous thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, or pneumonia; peripheral arterial ischemia can result in gangrene and limb loss; and coronary ischemia can result in heart failure and pulmonary edema. Deep venous thrombosis may result in pulmonary embolism and hepatic vein thrombosis in liver failure.
Clinical vignette 1: primary antiphospholipid syndrome. A 51-year-old woman without traditional stroke or vascular risk factors presented with sudden central scotoma in her right eye due to central retinal artery occlusion. Her workup revealed minimal atherosclerosis of her right internal carotid arteries and proximal vessels. Her transesophageal echocardiogram did not reveal any abnormality. She was tested for anticardiolipin antibody, which was strongly positive (> 99 percentile). Patient had negative lupus anticoagulant and β2 glycoprotein antibody.
Clinical vignette 2: secondary antiphospholipid syndrome. A 35-year-old woman presented to the doctor for possible seizures in her sleep. Review of her medical history revealed recurrent miscarriages. The first one, five years prior to her current presentation, occurred at 12 weeks. Her second one was a year later, at 26 weeks. Her third pregnancy was a premature birth at 34 weeks, but the baby died 12 days later. During her last pregnancy, she was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematous. She had a transiently positive (falsely positive) rapid plasma reagin and transiently elevated activated partial thromboplastin time. Her recent brain MRI revealed multiple chronic ischemic infarct-like changes. Thrombophilia workup revealed positive anticardiolipin, IgG, and IgM, greater than the 99th percentile for that laboratory.
• Antiphospholipid syndrome is idiopathic or the result of an underlying process.
• The mechanism of antiphospholipid syndrome is alteration of the balance between coagulation and anticoagulation.
• Multiple elements of the coagulation process are either upregulated or downregulated, leading to excessive coagulation.
Antiphospholipid syndrome can be divided into primary and secondary. Primary antiphospholipid syndrome is idiopathic. The clinical manifestations and laboratory findings occur in absence of an underlying disease process. Secondary antiphospholipid syndrome is associated with systemic disorders, the commonest being systemic lupus erythematous. Other causes include infections (mycoplasma, malaria, Lyme, etc.) or drugs (interferons, sulfonamides, etc.).
Hemostasis ensures that the balance between coagulation and anticoagulation is tipped towards the latter to ensure optimal blood flow. This balance is altered by the antiphospholipid syndrome leading to excessive coagulation, which has various clinical consequences depending on the organ or tissue affected.
Prothrombotic upregulation. Intravascular thrombosis, usually triggered by endothelial injury, releases the tissue factor, thus triggering the intrinsic coagulation pathway and formation of the blood clot. Thrombosis in antiphospholipid syndrome is believed to mimic endothelial injury predisposing to thrombosis.
Endothelial activation. Mannose-binding lectin binds to β2GPI in the endothelium, triggering complement activation and thrombin generation. Antibody against β2GPI binds to annexin A2, a tPA endothelial receptor (107). Endothelial priming with TNF-alpha amplifies thrombin generation (35). During pregnancy, β2GPI binds to the uterine endothelial cells and trophoblast. Fetal loss was associated with C3 and C9 deposition (02).
Tissue factor activity upregulation. Antiphospholipid antibodies enhance the production of tissue factor by endothelial cells (82). Additionally, inhibition of tissue factor pathway inhibitor type 1 (TFPI) by IgG from patients with lupus stimulates thrombin generation (01; 65).
Platelet activation. Antiphospholipids amplify platelet activation by endothelium. The anti-β2GPI antibody binds to the GPIb subunit of the GPIb/IX/V receptor on the platelet surface, leading to thromboxane production and activation of the phosphoinositide-3 kinase/Akt pathway (98). Thromboxane contributes to platelet aggregation and activation. Additionally, exposure of platelets to aPL antibodies increases expression of GP IIb/IIIa and GPIIIa on platelet surface (38).
Complement activation. Complement activation contributes to thrombosis (31). This appears to be related to C5 and C6 and is strongly associated with IgG-type antiphospholipids (44).
Neutrophil activation. The presence of aPL antibodies, while necessary, does not trigger the clinical manifestations of APS. In presence of lipopolysaccharides, the activation of neutrophils by aPL antibodies was significantly increased through the toll-like receptor, TLR-4 (52). Additionally, the release of neutrophil extracellular traps (NETosis) by antibodies anti-β2GPI also triggers thrombosis (69). Neutrophil extracellular traps are webs of extracellular chromatin and antimicrobial proteins resulting from neutrophil death (16). Their release is facilitated by immune complexes, interleukins (IL-8), tumor necrosis factor, granulocyte colony stimulating factors, activated endothelial cells, platelets, and reactive oxygen species. The resulting scaffold traps platelets, erythrocytes, fibrinogen, fibronectin, and von Willebrand factor and stabilizes the clot (88). At the same time, neutrophil extracellular trap promotes thrombin generation (105).
Monocyte activation. The monocytes in patients with antiphospholipid syndrome increase expression of tissue factor on their surface and contribute to thrombosis (67).
Inhibition of fibrinolysis. Thrombosis is disrupted by tissue plasminogen activator (tPA). The annexin 2 (A2) complex, a cell surface receptor for tPA, facilitates generation of plasmin and clot dissolution (54). Antiphospholipid syndrome is often associated with other antibodies like anti-annexin 2, anti-tPA, and antiplasmin (30; 106; 25). These antibodies inhibit clot dissolution (66).
Activated protein C inhibition. The major anticoagulant pathway involves protein C and protein S. Endothelial activation activates protein C, which together with protein S, inactivates factors Va and VIIIa. β2GPI-anti-β2GPI complex binds to activated protein C (APC) complex, thus, inhibiting its anticoagulation activity (95).
Other mechanisms. Annexin 5 is a protein that appears to contribute to the anticoagulant coating on endothelial cells and platelets. The β2GPI-anti-β2GPI complex may inhibit annexin 5, triggering placental thrombosis and fetal loss (85; 86). Inhibition of activated factor X and tissue factor pathway also plays a role (96; 45).
The “2-hit hypothesis” suggests that mere presence of antiphospholipid antibodies, while necessary, is not sufficient to cause thrombosis (99; 49). Thus, antibody presence can be described as a first hit. A second hit, like infection or systemic inflammation, is often required for the thrombotic response to occur (89; 99; 61). In vitro, a lipopolysaccharide was required to trigger thrombosis in rats with anti-β2GPI IgG (44). This hypothesis only applies to the vascular complications and does not entirely describe the obstetric manifestations of the disease (70).
The obstetric complications result from vascular thrombosis (19).
Thrombosis of uterine spiral arterioles and thromboxane production, which further promotes platelet aggregation and vasoconstriction, lead to placental infarction. Additionally, protein C and protein S activity and reduction of annexin 5 contribute to the hypercoagulable and vasculopathic state.
The antiphospholipid antibodies also target the trophoblastic β2GPI, causing trophoblastic insufficiency. The resulting alteration of trophoblast differentiation and maturation, direct cellular damage, and apoptosis contributes to fetal loss. Mice inoculated with antiphospholipids experienced early resorption of pregnancy (81; 46).
• The antiphospholipid antibodies are detected in a small proportion of asymptomatic individuals.
• These antibodies have multiple etiologies and usually decrease over time.
• aPTT is an unreliable test for detecting antiphospholipid antibodies.
• Specific tests for each type of antibody are required for diagnosis of unexplained thrombosis.
• The risk of thrombosis is higher if the antibodies are associated with a primary disease.
The antiphospholipid antibodies alone do not always trigger the clinical syndrome. Between 1% to 10% of the asymptomatic population test positive for antiphospholipid antibodies, and the titers usually decline with time (104; 14). aPTT is prolonged only in 40% to 50% of patients with lupus anticoagulant and not in those with anticardiolipin antibodies. Definitive tests like ELISA for anticardiolipin antibodies, dRVVT for lupus anticoagulant, hexagonal phospholipid neutralization procedure, and beta-2-GP-I (IgG, IgA, and IgM) are more useful in patients with unexplained thromboembolism (13).
Asymptomatic patients with positive antibodies have a 0% to 4% risk of thrombosis (48). Most antibodies are anticardiolipin, followed by lupus anticoagulant and anti-β2GPI (12). They result from exposure to infections, malignancies, or drugs, and are usually present transiently at low levels (97). Diagnosis of antiphospholipid syndrome requires persistent, moderate to high levels of these antibodies (71).
The risk of thrombosis is higher when the antibodies are associated with a primary disease (62). Common underlying primary disorders include systemic lupus erythematous, rheumatoid arthritis, malignancies, and infections like syphilis, hepatitis C, HIV, cytomegalovirus, tuberculosis, or leprosy (87; 18; 103). For example, over 20 years, the risk of developing antiphospholipid syndrome is between 30% to 70% in patients with systemic lupus erythematous (76).
The prevalence of antiphospholipid antibodies was as low as 2% in Afro-Caribbean countries and as high as 51% in some Asian countries (14). Caucasians seem to have a higher risk of thrombosis compared to Chinese patients (72).
Venous thrombosis is the most common presentation of antiphospholipid syndrome, usually as deep venous thrombosis (20). The frequency of antiphospholipid antibodies in patients with deep venous thrombosis ranges from 5% to 30%.
Arterial thrombosis, in the form of TIA, stroke, coronary syndrome, or peripheral arterial occlusion, accounts for 30% of all thromboses associated with antiphospholipid syndrome (42; 51). Although an interaction of antiphospholipids with patent foramen ovale was suspected, no association between the antiphospholipid, patent foramen ovale, and stroke incidence was found (83).
Fetal loss is the most common obstetric complication of antiphospholipid syndrome, which is responsible to 25% of recurrent miscarriages (33; 46). The rate of early fetal loss in women with antiphospholipid syndrome ranges between 17.1% and 35.4%. Late fetal loss occurs in 16.9%, and preterm labor in approximately 35%, of pregnant women with antiphospholipid syndrome (22; 21).
Intrauterine growth retardation was found in 13.7% of women with antiphospholipid syndrome (102)
• A moderate to high titer antibody warrants avoidance of estrogen supplements and active perioperative thromboprophylaxis.
• Low-dose aspirin prevents first arterial ischemic event in asymptomatic antibody carriers, with or without systemic lupus erythematosus or obstetric complications.
• Unfractionated heparin or low molecular weight heparin followed by oral warfarin with target international normalized ratio (INR) 2 to 3 is preferred for prevention of recurrent venous thrombosis.
• High-intensity anticoagulation INR 3 to 4 is not superior to moderate intensity anticoagulation.
• Recurrent venous thrombosis despite INR 2 to 3 may benefit from additional low-dose aspirin, increasing INR to 3 to 4 or low molecular weight heparin.
• Antiplatelet monotherapy is recommended for patients with cryptogenic stroke/TIA, with one reading of positive antiphospholipid antibodies.
• Arterial thrombosis and antiphospholipid syndrome may benefit from anticoagulation with warfarin to INR 2 to 3.
Asymptomatic carriers. The Antiphospholipid Antibody Acetylsalicylic Acid (APLASA) study, a randomized controlled trial in asymptomatic carriers of persistently positive antiphospholipid antibody, demonstrated a low risk of thrombosis. Low-dose (81 mg) aspirin failed to prevent thrombosis (37).
However, an analysis of 5 international cohort studies found a protective effect of low-dose aspirin against a first arterial, but not venous, thrombosis in patients with antiphospholipid antibodies with systemic lupus erythematosus, and asymptomatic carriers (04).
ALIWAPAS study was a prospective, multicenter, randomized, open, controlled trial in patients with antiphospholipid antibodies and systemic lupus erythematosus or obstetric morbidity, or both (29). Low-intensity warfarin addition to low-dose aspirin did not provide additional protection against a first thrombosis. Moreover, the combination caused more episodes of bleeding.
In asymptomatic carriers, low-dose aspirin (75 to 100 mg daily) is recommended. In patients with systemic lupus erythematosus, without thrombotic or obstetric complications, low-dose aspirin may be considered in low-risk antiphospholipid profile and is recommended in high-risk antiphospholipid profile. Nonpregnant women with a history of obstetric antiphospholipid syndrome only may be offered low-dose aspirin (101).
Antiphospholipid syndrome presenting as venous thrombosis. Venous thrombosis has a low recurrence rate at an international normalized ratio (INR) of 2 to 3 (94). Warfarin is the preferred anticoagulant, unless there is difficulty obtaining consistent INR, allergy, or intolerance to it. Rivaroxaban may be used instead, but it should be avoided in patients with triple antibody positivity.
Unprovoked venous thrombosis warrants long-term prophylaxis. However, the benefit of long-term anticoagulation in patients with thrombosis provoked by surgery, for example, or with declining antibody titers over time, is less clear. Longer duration should be considered if there is a high-risk antiphospholipid profile.
In definite antiphospholipid syndrome and recurrent venous events despite INR of 2 to 3, addition of low-dose aspirin, increase of target INR to 3 to 4, or change to low molecular weight heparin may be considered (101).
Antiphospholipid syndrome presenting as arterial ischemia. The Antiphospholipid Antibodies and Stroke Study (APASS), a prospective cohort study within the Warfarin vs. Aspirin Recurrent Stroke Study (WARSS), a randomized, double-blind trial failed to demonstrate superiority of warfarin to 325 mg of aspirin in patients with a previous ischemic stroke and antiphospholipid antibodies.
The APASS study was limited by diagnosis of the antiphospholipid syndrome based on a single test and lack of patients with high-titer positivity (64).
A systematic review of 16 studies found that patients with stroke and 1 reading of antiphospholipid test had no increased risk compared to those without antiphospholipids (94).
The American Stroke Association guidelines recommend antiplatelet monotherapy for patients with cryptogenic ischemic stroke or transient ischemic attacks and positive antiphospholipid antibodies who do not meet the criteria for antiphospholipid syndrome and for patients who meet the criteria for antiphospholipid syndrome but in whom anticoagulation has not yet begun (58). For those who meet the antiphospholipid syndrome criteria, anticoagulation with a target international normalized ratio of 2 to 3 is recommended (59; 94; 58; 101).
Antiphospholipid syndrome presenting with recurrent events. Retrospective data suggest that recurring thromboembolism despite INR of 2 to 3, may benefit from increasing target INR to greater than 3.0, as mortality is higher due to recurrent thrombosis rather than bleeding (91; 59; 94; 24).
However, in a randomized, double-blind clinical trial of 114 patients, high-intensity (target international normalized ratio: 3.0 to 4.0) was not more effective than moderate-intensity anticoagulation (28). Additionally, the Warfarin in the Anti-Phospholipid Syndrome (WAPS) trial failed to demonstrate superiority of high-intensity warfarin treatment compared to medium-intensity anticoagulation (43). Nevertheless, increasing the target international normalized ratio to 3 to 4, adding low-dose aspirin, or switching to lower molecular weight heparin was suggested (101). The risk of hemorrhagic complications may be higher with the combination therapy (78).
Antiphospholipid syndrome presenting with obstetric complications. The recommendations vary with the type of presentation and are tailored to the clinical situation in close collaboration with the OBGYN specialist.
Hydroxychloroquine is often added to the regimen of patients with secondary antiphospholipid syndrome associated with systemic lupus erythematosus (93; 92). However, hydroxychloroquine had no independent protective effect in a meta-analysis of 497 subjects (04).
Thrombotic events in asymptomatic antiphospholipid patients have often been correlated with the presence of other thrombotic risk factors. This is especially important given the “2-hit” pathogenetic theory of thrombosis development (70). Exercising; avoiding smoking and oral contraceptives; and treating hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and diabetes are all useful. Lastly, high-risk situations like surgery or prolonged immobilization may benefit from low molecular weight heparin.
The clinical presentation of antiphospholipid syndrome is usually unique to the system of involvement. Therefore, a system-based approach is best in describing the possible differential diagnosis of antiphospholipid syndrome.
Hematological/vascular presentation. Antiphospholipid syndrome presents with thrombosis in both arterial as well as venous beds. However, because the first episodes are usually isolated, antiphospholipid syndrome should be considered in cases with unusual presentations.
Venous thrombosis. Patients presenting with deep venous thrombosis and pulmonary embolisms may often have other risk factors for venous thrombosis like vascular stasis and endothelial injury. Thus, a differential in such cases includes other diagnoses:
• Cancer (eg, ovarian cancer or small cell lung cancer)
Arterial ischemia. Traditional vascular risk factors like hypertension, diabetes, atherosclerosis, and cardioembolic causes are usually the top differential for any arterial infarction. However, in absence of these factors, particularly in children or adults younger than 45 years of age, should prompt investigations for antiphospholipid syndrome. Other causes for this clinical presentation must be part of the work up and include:
• Vasculitis, including polyarteritis nodosa
Arterial and venous thromboses. The following conditions can lead to both arterial and venous thrombosis:
Elevated aPTT may occur in clotting factor deficiency (factors VIII, IX, XI, and XII), disseminated intravascular coagulation, dysfibrinogenemia, and hyperfibrinogenemia. However, unlike in antiphospholipid syndrome, addition of normal plasma to patient’s plasma often corrects the elevated aPTT.
Obstetric complications. Recurrent fetal loss due to paternal or maternal chromosomal disorders, or maternal reproductive system anatomic abnormalities occurs usually in the early (less than 6 weeks) or mid- (6 to 9 weeks) fetal period. Antiphospholipid syndrome typically causes fetal loss after 9 weeks. Also, when other risk factors of preeclampsia (maternal diabetes, early or late maternal age, history of gestational hypertension) have been ruled out, antiphospholipid syndrome should be considered in the differential.
• Antiphospholipid antibodies may occur in asymptomatic persons and decline with time.
• At least one clinical and one laboratory criteria are needed for diagnosis of antiphospholipid syndrome.
• The clinical criteria include arterial and/or venous thrombosis and/or obstetrical complication.
• All 3 antiphospholipid antibodies should be tested: anticardiolipin, lupus anticoagulant, and anti-β2GPI.
•The antiphospholipid antibody titer should be moderate or high on repeated testing.
The diagnostic criteria for antiphospholipid syndrome were revised in 2006 (71; 40). Based on this revision, at least one of the clinical and one of the laboratory criteria should be met for the diagnosis of antiphospholipid syndrome.
Vascular thrombosis. Evidence of arterial or venous or small vessel thrombosis in vascular beds of any tissue or organ. Diagnostic imaging or histopathology should confirm this. The histopathology should reveal evidence of thrombosis in the absence of significant inflammation of the vessel wall.
Obstetric. Pregnancy-related morbidity has always been the cornerstone of diagnosis of antiphospholipid syndrome in women of childbearing age (09; 46).
These chiefly include the following:
• Recurrent fetal loss (≥3) before 10 weeks of pregnancy after excluding chromosomal or anatomic causes.
• Any fetal loss at or after 10 weeks of pregnancy with normal fetal morphology.
• Premature birth secondary to preeclampsia/eclampsia of a morphologically normal neonate.
• Premature birth secondary to uteroplacental insufficiency.
Laboratory criteria. This diagnostic criterion requires two or more abnormal laboratory measurements at least 12 weeks apart of the following antibodies:
• Lupus anticoagulant result may become false positive under influence of warfarin, heparin, and direct oral anticoagulants.
• Anticardiolipin, IgG, or IgM type present in moderate to high titer (> 40 GPL or MPL or > 99th percentile) by a standardized ELISA.
• Anti-β2GPI, IgG, or IgM type present in moderate to high titer (> 99th percentile) by a standardized ELISA.
Lupus anticoagulant testing has several stages: screening, mixing study, and confirmation.
Screening for lupus anticoagulant. If aPTT and/or dilute Russell viper venom time (dRVVT) are normal, lupus anticoagulant is ruled out. If they are prolonged, the patient’s plasma is mixed with normal plasma. Full correction of prolongation excludes lupus anticoagulant; coagulation factor deficiency may be the cause. Lack of correction requires confirmation with addition of phospholipid. If aPTT/dRVVT correct significantly, lupus anticoagulant is confirmed; if they are still significantly prolonged, consider an inhibitor.
Risk stratification is based on the antiphospholipid profile. High-risk antiphospholipid profile is characterized by detection of lupus anticoagulant on 2 or more occasions at least 12 weeks apart, or of double (any combination of lupus anticoagulant, anticardiolipin antibodies, or anti-β2GPI) or triple (all 3 subtypes) antiphospholipid positivity, or the presence of persistently high antiphospholipid titers.
A low-risk antiphospholipid profile is seen in isolated anticardiolipin or anti-β2GPI antibodies at low-medium titers, particularly if transiently positive (92).
• Acute thrombosis is treated with thrombolytics.
• Association with vasculitis requires consideration of immunosuppression.
• Catastrophic antiphospholipid syndrome requires multiple approaches, including anticoagulation, immunosuppression, and plasma exchange or IVIG.
• Direct oral anticoagulants are less effective than warfarin, especially in patients with high-risk (triple antibodies).
• Rivaroxaban may be used if warfarin treatment is not practical but is less effective in high-risk patients.
Acute treatment. Arterial or venous thrombosis should be treated with intravenous thrombolytics, depending on the circulation involved as well as the standard recommendation for that organ system.
Association of antiphospholipid syndrome with systemic vasculitis is rare. Some manifestations such as livedo reticularis and retinal vasculitis are attributed to vasculitis. Differentiation between vasculitis and thrombosis helps in choosing antithrombotic versus immunosuppressive therapy (60).
Treatment of CAPS. CAPS has a mortality of 50% and requires ICU care. The combination of anticoagulation, corticosteroids, and plasma exchange or IVIG is recommended (17). Cyclophosphamide improves outcome only in patients who also have systemic lupus erythematosus (10). Rituximab and eculizumab may have a role in CAPS management (39; 11).
Novel oral anticoagulants for thrombotic prophylaxis in antiphospholipid syndrome. The novel oral anticoagulants have several advantages over warfarin. These agents, including direct thrombin inhibitor (dabigatran) and anti- Factor Xa inhibitors (apixaban, rivaroxaban, and edoxaban) have more predictable anticoagulant effects than warfarin, do not require monitoring, and do not interact with foods, alcohol, and drugs and have already been FDA-approved for several clinical indications. However, inadequate evidence exists on their use in patients with antiphospholipid syndrome (03).
The randomized controlled trial, Rivaroxaban Versus Warfarin to Treat Patients with Thrombotic Antiphospholipid Syndrome with or without Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (RAPS), failed to reach noninferiority due to a 2-fold increase in thrombin potential in patients receiving rivaroxaban. However, the authors concluded that rivaroxaban might be an effective and safe alternative to warfarin as there was no increased thrombotic risk in the rivaroxaban arm compared to warfarin (27). Criticisms of this trial include exclusion of high-risk patients and relatively short period of follow-up.
The Trial on Rivaroxaban in Anti-Phospholipid Syndrome (TRAPS), which compares rivaroxaban with standard-intensity warfarin, was prematurely stopped because all thrombotic events occurred in the rivaroxaban arm in triple-positive patients (80).
A systematic review of the literature identified 122 patients with antiphospholipid syndrome treated with direct oral anticoagulants; 19 experienced recurrent thrombosis and three patients who had no recurrence while treated with warfarin developed recurrent thrombosis after switching to direct oral anticoagulants. Positivity for all three laboratory criteria for antiphospholipid syndrome was associated with a 3.5-fold increased risk for recurrent thrombosis (34).
At present there is a need for more randomized controlled trials regarding the safety and efficacy of the novel oral anticoagulants in patients with the antiphospholipid syndrome. This may be difficult to achieve as an attempted study in Canada comparing rivaroxaban and warfarin was stopped due to failure to enroll sufficient patients (63).
Treatment of obstetric antiphospholipid syndrome depends on the type of clinical presentation prior to the diagnosis of antiphospholipid syndrome in these patients. Aspirin, low molecular weight heparin, or both are the cornerstones of therapy for obstetric antiphospholipid syndrome. Multidisciplinary collaboration with the OBGYN specialist is crucial for the management of these patients.
Perioperative risks in patients with antiphospholipid antibodies include both thrombosis and bleeding. Thrombosis can occur spontaneously or can be potentially precipitated by surgical intervention, infections, and recent change in anticoagulation therapy. It is recommended to perform clotting factor assays in addition to routine studies before surgery as antiphospholipid antibody syndrome is frequently associated with clotting factor deficiencies and thrombocytopenia. There is no consensus to ensure the optimal level of anticoagulation perioperatively (32). Certain general measures are taken to minimize the risk, including antithrombotic stockings, warm fluids to prevent hypothermia, adequate hydration, and prophylactic antibiotics to help prevent infection. Subcutaneous heparin is used in most patients in the hospital to prevent deep venous thrombosis (84).
Adrian Marchidann MD
Dr. Marchidann of Kings County Hospital has no relevant financial relationships to disclose.See Profile
Steven R Levine MD
Dr. Levine of the SUNY Health Science Center at Brooklyn has no relevant financial relationships to disclose.See Profile
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Jul. 20, 2022
Stroke & Vascular Disorders
Jul. 20, 2022