The haemorrhagic diathesis in von Willebrand disease (vWD) is caused by a quantitative deficiency or a qualitative defect in the von Willebrand factor (vWF) in plasma and/or platelets causing insufficient primary haemostasis. Since vWF binds and protects factor VIII (FVIII) towards random proteolysis, coagulation may also be impaired in patients with a low plasma level of vWF, and in instances where vWF displays insufficient binding capacity to FVIII. The entity of vWD displays a vast heterogeneity. Apart from rarely occurring acquired cases, vWD is an inherited disorder of autosomal linkage. The major clinical hallmark in vWD is an increased tendency to mucocutaneous bleeding that rarely reach life-threatening proportions, unless vWF is severely reduced or completely absent. Increased bleeding may also occur in sites such as muscles and joints when the level of FVIII is particularly low.
Significant progress has recently been achieved through extensive molecular genetic exploration of various forms of vWD. In order to guide treatment and to form a platform for genetic investigation, however, accuracy in diagnosis and phenotypic characterization is important. By means of various laboratory methods, major subclasses of vWD can be differentiated, as presented in another article of this series. Whereas most of the cases of vWD can quite easily be diagnosed and classified using today’s diagnostic methods, the most frequently occurring bleeding disorder of all, vWd type 1 of mild degree, continues to challenge clinicians and diagnostic laboratories. The aim of this paper is to review the laboratory methods most commonly used in diagnostic investigation of the patient suspected of vWD.