von Willebrand Disease - VWD

  • Diagnosis
  • Algorithms
  • Screening
  • Monitoring
  • Background
  • Lab Tests
  • References
  • Related Topics
  • Videos

Indications for Testing

  • Initial evaluation (personal/family history and physical examination) suggestive of a bleeding disorder
  • Important to evaluate other potential causes of mucocutaneous bleeding
    • Disorders of the liver, kidneys, blood, or bone marrow
    • Undiagnosed thrombocytopenia (type 2B and platelet-type von Willebrand disease [PT-VWD] may have thrombocytopenia)
    • Anti-platelet medications (aspirin, NSAIDs, clopidogrel, others)

Laboratory Testing

  • Initial evaluation for a bleeding disorder (to exclude other coagulation defects)
    • CBC with platelet count, prothrombin time/partial thromboplastin time (PT/PTT), fibrinogen, or thrombin time (TT)
  • In the presence of a strong history of mucocutaneous bleeding, tests for VWD could be considered as part of the initial evaluation
  • VWD may prolong the PTT due to its role as a carrier for factor VIII
    • PTT is often normal in VWD
    • If screening PTT is abnormal, PTT mixing studies may be useful in the initial evaluation to differentiate factor deficiency from inhibitor as the cause of the prolonged PTT
      • In VWD, decreased factor VIII may result in a prolonged PTT that demonstrates correction in a mixing study (factor deficiency pattern)
    • VWD type 2B and platelet type may have thrombocytopenia
  • von Willebrand panel testing (abnormalities depend on the subtype)
  • Initial VWD testing
    • VWF antigen (VWF:Ag) – measures the amount of protein
    • VWF ristocetin cofactor activity (VWF:Rco) – measures the function of the protein
    • Factor VIII activity
      • Factor VIII is often decreased in VWD because VWF is a carrier for factor VIII
  • Multimeric analysis shows the distribution of different-sized multimers and is used for subtyping, typically after initial diagnosis
    • Not recommended for initial screening except in suspected cases of acquired VWD
      • Multimeric abnormalities may be the only abnormality identified in some cases of acquired VWD
    • Types 2A, 2B, and platelet type and many acquired cases have abnormal multimeric distributions
      • Abnormal result defined as absence of high- and/or intermediate-molecular-weight multimers (HMW, IMW)
  • Additional specialized testing may be necessary for diagnosis and/or subtyping
    • VWF:Rco to VWF:Ag ratio
      • VWD types 2A, 2B, platelet type, and 2M characteristically have lower levels of VWF:Rco compared to VWF:Ag, resulting in a decreased VWF:Rco-to-VWF:Ag ratio
        • Ratios <0.7 or <0.6 suggest one of these qualitative subtypes
    • Ristocetin-induced platelet aggregation (RIPA)
      • RIPA is not considered first-line testing for VWD and is not sensitive to mild forms of VWD (most type 1 cases)
      • RIPA is typically used to confirm and distinguish between type 2 subtypes (2A, 2B/platelet type)
        • Low-dose RIPA detects abnormally increased aggregation seen in type 2B and platelet-type VWD
    • vWF:platelet binding
      • Detects abnormally increased platelet binding seen in type 2B
      • Differentiates type 2B from platelet-type VWD (test is normal in platelet type)
    • VWF:FVIII binding
      • Differentiates between type 2N and hemophilia A (test is normal in hemophilia A)
    • Genetic/molecular testing may be useful for the following
      • Confirm phenotypic diagnosis of VWD type 2A, 2B, 2M, 2N, or platelet-type
        • May aid in therapeutic decisions
      • Distinguish VWD type 2B from platelet-type VWD
      • Distinguish VWD type 2N from hemophilia A
      • Evaluate family members of individuals with known mutations
  • Factors that may affect laboratory testing in VWD
    • VWF values fluctuate over time; if clinical suspicion is high and values are normal, repeat testing may be required for diagnosis
    • Initial laboratory testing may be normal in patients with mild disease
    • Mildly decreased VWF values are not diagnostic
    • Both VWF and FVIII are acute phase reactants and may be elevated by stress, illness, or medications, which can mask actual deficiencies
      • Conditions include pregnancy, estrogen-containing medications, inflammation, infection, liver disease, malignancy, exercise, stress/anxiety, and trauma (including traumatic venipuncture)
    • VWF values and FVIII activity are affected by ABO blood type (type O individuals have ~25% lower values than non-ABO individuals)
    • Results for VWF and FVIII testing can be affected by pre-analytical variables such as collection technique, specimen preparation, storage, and transport
      • Cold storage of citrated whole blood prior to centrifugation can markedly reduce VWF and FVIII values and can also induce multimeric abnormalities leading to an incorrect diagnosis of VWD or hemophilia A or incorrect subtyping of VWD

Differential Diagnosis

  • Population screening not recommended
  • Screening when other family members have VWD – no specific recommendations but may be considered depending on clinical scenario
  • In patients initially receiving desmopressin
    • Based on therapeutic trial in nonbleeding state after clinical use
    • Measure von Willebrand panel at baseline and 1-2 hours after administering desmopressin (depending on preparation used and desired protocol)
    • Additional 2-4 measurements in patients with previous history of poor response to evaluate for decreased half-life due to rapid clearance
  • After major surgery in patients receiving desmopressin
    • Monitoring with VWF:RCo and FVIII until bleeding risk is reduced
    • Additional postoperative desmopressin, based on bleeding and lab values
    • Monitoring of electrolytes if numerous doses of desmopressin given
    • In patients with cardiovascular disease, desmopressin has rarely precipitated myocardial infarction or stroke; consider replacement with VWF concentrates rather than desmopressin in patients with thrombotic risk factors

von Willebrand disease (VWD) is the most common congenital bleeding disorder. VWD may result from either a quantitative (types 1 and 3) or qualitative (type 2) abnormality of von Willebrand factor (VWF).


  • Incidence
    • May be as high as 1/100
    • Frequency of types
      • Type 1 – 70-80%
      • Type 2 – 15-30%
      • Type 3 – rare
  • Sex – M:F, equal
  • Ethnicity – more common in Caucasians


  • Type 1 – autosomal dominant with incomplete penetrance (60%)
  • Type 2
    • 2A – autosomal dominant (20% recessive)
    • 2B – autosomal dominant
    • 2M – autosomal dominant
    • 2N – autosomal recessive
  • Type 3 – autosomal recessive
  • Platelet-type (PT-VWD) – autosomal dominant
    • Abnormality of the platelet von Willebrand receptor, glycoprotein 1b (GP1b)


  • VWF is a large multimeric plasma protein that mediates adherence of platelets to the vessel wall at sites of injury; it is also a carrier for factor VIII
  • VWD results from either deficiency or dysfunction of VWF and is characterized by type of defect
    • Quantitative
      • Partial deficiency – type 1
      • Complete deficiency – type 3
    • Qualitative – type 2 (2A, 2B, 2M, 2N)
  • Acquired VWD is rare and is associated with other conditions

Clinical Presentation


  • Appropriate treatment is dictated by subtype and clinical presentation
    • Most cases of VWD are mild and may require treatment only with surgery, dental extractions, injury, or childbirth
    • Treatment options may include
      • Mild VWD – desmopressin acetate (DDAVP) to release stored VWF
      • Moderate to severe VWD – replacement therapy with factor concentrates containing VWF (Humate-P, Alphanate FD/HT)
    • Acquired VWD – treatment of the underlying disorder is most effective

Tests generally appear in the order most useful for common clinical situations. Click on number for test-specific information in the ARUP Laboratory Test Directory.

CBC with Platelet Count and Automated Differential 0040003
Method: Automated Cell Count/Differential

Prothrombin Time 0030215
Method: Electromagnetic Mechanical Clot Detection

Partial Thromboplastin Time 0030235
Method: Electromagnetic Mechanical Clot Detection

von Willebrand Panel with Reflex to von Willebrand Multimeric Analysis 2003387
Method: Electrophoresis/Western Blot/Clotting/Microlatex Particle-Mediated Immunoassay/Platelet Agglutination


VWF and FVIII are acute phase reactants that may be elevated by stress or illness

Normal values do not exclude VWD

VWF and FVIII values are affected by ABO blood type (lower in blood type O)

Related Tests


Keeney S, Bowen D, Cumming A, Enayat S, Goodeve A, Hill M, UK Haemophilia Centre Doctors' Organisation (UKHCDO). The molecular analysis of von Willebrand disease: a guideline from the UK Haemophilia Centre Doctors' Organisation Haemophilia Genetics Laboratory Network. Haemophilia. 2008; 14(5): 1099-111. PubMed

Nichols WL, Hultin MB, James AH, Manco-Johnson MJ, Montgomery RR, Ortel TL, Rick ME, Sadler JE, Weinstein M, Yawn BP. von Willebrand disease (VWD): evidence-based diagnosis and management guidelines, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) Expert Panel report (USA). Haemophilia. 2008; 14(2): 171-232. PubMed

The Diagnosis, Evaluation, and Management of von Willebrand Disease. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Bethesda, MD [Accessed: Nov 2015]

General References

Castaman G, Hillarp A, Goodeve A. Laboratory aspects of von Willebrand disease: test repertoire and options for activity assays and genetic analysis. Haemophilia. 2014; 20 Suppl 4: 65-70. PubMed

Favaloro EJ, Bodó I, Israels SJ, Brown SA. von Willebrand disease and platelet disorders. Haemophilia. 2014; 20 Suppl 4: 59-64. PubMed

Franchini M, Montagnana M, Lippi G. Clinical, laboratory and therapeutic aspects of platelet-type von Willebrand disease. Int J Lab Hematol. 2008; 30(2): 91-4. PubMed

James PD, Lillicrap D. von Willebrand disease: clinical and laboratory lessons learned from the large von Willebrand disease studies. Am J Hematol. 2012; 87 Suppl 1: S4-11. PubMed

Lillicrap D. Von Willebrand disease - phenotype versus genotype: deficiency versus disease. Thromb Res. 2007; 120 Suppl 1: S11-6. PubMed

Mohri H. Acquired von Willebrand syndrome: features and management. Am J Hematol. 2006; 81(8): 616-23. PubMed

Robertson J, Lillicrap D, James PD. Von Willebrand disease. Pediatr Clin North Am. 2008; 55(2): 377-92, viii-ix. PubMed

Yawn B, Nichols WL, Rick ME. Diagnosis and management of von Willebrand disease: guidelines for primary care. Am Fam Physician. 2009; 80(11): 1261-8. PubMed

References from the ARUP Institute for Clinical and Experimental Pathology®

Flanders MM, Crist RA, Roberts WL, Rodgers GM. Pediatric reference intervals for seven common coagulation assays. Clin Chem. 2005; 51(9): 1738-42. PubMed

Medical Reviewers

Last Update: January 2016