What are antibodies and autoantibodies?
When you become ill your body makes antibodies against the germs. These antibodies help your immune system fight off the infection. Sometimes your body gets confused and starts making antibodies against itself. These are called autoantibodies.
Some common diseases caused by autoantibodies include hypothyroidism (production of autoantibodies against the thyroid) and diabetes (production of autoantibodies against insulin-producing cells). In pregancy, we think that certain autoantibodies can cause blood clots in the placenta or interfere with its development.
Types of Autoantibodies ?
- Antiphospholipid antibodies are autoantibodies that are associated with recurrent pregnancy loss. These include anticardiolipin antibodies (ACA) and the lupus anticoagulant (LA).
- Antinuclear antibodies (ANA) are often measured as well, but the connection between ANA and recurrent pregnancy loss is not as strong as with antiphospholipid antibodies.
These autoantibodies can be measured through blood testing.
What is Antiphospholipid Syndrome (APS)?
APS is a medical problem that can affect pregnancy outcome. If you have a history of recurrent pregnancy loss, late loss, or a history of a blood clot and you test positive repeatedly for antiphospholipid antibodies, you may have APS. If so, you must be followed carefully in pregnancy because APS is associated with complications in pregnancy, both in the baby and the mother.
Women with APS are at increased risk of developing a blood clot even outside of pregnancy. It is important to avoid other factors that increase your chance of developing a blood clot such as smoking, being overweight, inactive, and using estrogen-containing medication such as birth control pills.
What kind of treatment is there for women with APS?
Although standard treatment cannot prevent your body from making these autoantibodies, treatment can protect you and your pregnancy by making your blood less likely to clot. Treatment can be as simple as taking low-dose aspirin daily.
This has been shown to be safe in pregnancy and has proven helpful to many women with APS. In cases where autoantibody levels are very high, or where aspirin alone may not be enough, a second medication called heparin may be added.