Signs and symptoms
Characteristic symptoms vary with severity. In general symptoms are internal or external bleeding episodes, which are called "bleeds". People with more severe haemophilia suffer more severe and more frequent bleeds, while people with mild haemophilia usually suffer more minor symptoms except after surgery or serious trauma. In cases of moderate haemophilia symptoms are variable which manifest along a spectrum between severe and mild forms.
In both haemophilia A and B, there is spontaneous bleeding but a normal bleeding time, normal prothrombin time, normal thrombin time, but prolonged partial thromboplastin time. Internal bleeding is common in people with severe haemophilia and some individuals with moderate haemophilia. The most characteristic type of internal bleed is a joint bleed where blood enters into the joint spaces. This is most common with severe haemophiliacs and can occur spontaneously (without evident trauma). If not treated promptly, joint bleeds can lead to permanent joint damage and disfigurement. Bleeding into soft tissues such as muscles and subcutaneous tissues is less severe but can lead to damage and requires treatment.
Children with mild to moderate haemophilia may not have any signs or symptoms at birth especially if they do not undergo circumcision. Their first symptoms are often frequent and large bruises and haematomas from frequent bumps and falls as they learn to walk. Swelling and bruising from bleeding in the joints, soft tissue, and muscles may also occur. Children with mild haemophilia may not have noticeable symptoms for many years. Often, the first sign in very mild haemophiliacs is heavy bleeding from a dental procedure, an accident, or surgery. Females who are carriers usually have enough clotting factors from their one normal gene to prevent serious bleeding problems, though some may present as mild haemophiliacs.
Severe complications are much more common in cases of severe and moderate haemophilia. Complications may arise from the disease itself or from its treatment:
- Deep internal bleeding, e.g. deep-muscle bleeding, leading to swelling, numbness or pain of a limb.
- Joint damage from haemarthrosis (haemophilic arthropathy), potentially with severe pain, disfigurement, and even destruction of the joint and development of debilitating arthritis.
- Transfusion transmitted infection from blood transfusions that are given as treatment.
- Adverse reactions to clotting factor treatment, including the development of an immune inhibitor which renders factor replacement less effective.
- Intracranial haemorrhage is a serious medical emergency caused by the buildup of pressure inside the skull. It can cause disorientation, nausea, loss of consciousness, brain damage, and death.
Haemophilic arthropathy is characterized by chronic proliferative synovitis and cartilage destruction. If an intra-articular bleed is not drained early, it may cause apoptosis of chondrocytes and affect the synthesis of proteoglycans. The hypertrophied and fragile synovial lining while attempting to eliminate excessive blood may be more likely to easily rebleed, leading to a vicious cycle of hemarthrosis-synovitis-hemarthrosis. In addition, iron deposition in the synovium may induce an inflammatory response activating the immune system and stimulating angiogenesis, resulting in cartilage and bone destruction.