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Int J Clin Lab Res. 1998;28(4):201-10.

Laboratory diagnosis of von Willebrand disease.

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  • 1INSERM U143, Hôpital Bicêtre, Le Kremlin Bicêtre, France.


Von Willebrand disease is the most-common inherited bleeding disorder, including both quantitative (types 1 and 3) and qualitative (type 2) defects of von Willebrand factor. Among patients with suspected von Willebrand disease, the laboratory diagnosis requires three levels of testing: screening tests, specific assays for von Willebrand factor to establish the diagnosis, and discriminating tests to allow accurate characterization of the numerous types and subtypes of the disease. Because of their poor sensitivity, normal screening tests do not exclude the diagnosis. In most cases, specific measurements of von Willebrand factor antigen, von Willebrand factor ristocetin cofactor activity, and factor VIII levels in plasma allow differentiation of quantitative (proportionately decreased levels) and qualitative (discrepant levels) deficiencies of von Willebrand factor. Among the latter, a decreased von Willebrand factor ristocetin cofactor activity/von Willebrand factor antigen ratio is in favor of the three subtypes (2A, 2M, and 2B) defined by an abnormal interaction between von Willebrand factor and platelet glycoprotein Ib, whereas a decreased factor VIII/von Willebrand factor antigen ratio suggests subtype 2N, defined by a defective binding of von Willebrand factor to factor VIII. Several discriminating tests are available to definitively characterize each subtype. Moreover, for all variants, the link between phenotype and genotype is established using DNA analysis. In all cases, the precise characterization of type and subtype of von Willebrand disease remains essential for the choice of optimal therapeutic monitoring of each patient.

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