Men and women with bleeding disorders have similar symptoms but their experiences are different. It has been shown that women with a bleeding disorder rate their quality of life on a par with that of men with haemophilia who have HIV. Many factors determine quality of life, ranging from delay in diagnosis, to access to treatment and support from family and friends. Women should ask themselves what is important to them and recognise the barriers that determine whether they can achieve their aims in life. Quality of life instruments do not measure the impact of these disorders in a way that is specific to women. Psychosocial health – i.e. the mental, emotional, social, and spiritual aspects of what it means to be healthy – can have a major impact on quality of life. Women with bleeding disorders face a number of challenges to their psychosocial health. They struggle to be believed, they live with guilt, and they may have to fight for the best care for their children. They face obstacles to building relationships and their experiences can leave them isolated. Perhaps because of this, women with bleeding disorders are strong – but they also need to be encouraged to make time for themselves and look after their mental health.
The prevalence and impact of bleeding disorders in women is not sufficiently acknowledged, with the organisation of care traditionally biased towards boys and men with haemophilia. In 2017, the European Haemophilia Consortium surveyed women with bleeding disorders, national member organisations (NMOs) and treatment centres to assess the impact of bleeding disorders in women in four domains: physical activity, active life, romantic and social life, and reproductive life. Most women had von Willebrand disease (VWD) or described themselves as a carrier. All reported a negative impact on physical activity, active life and romantic and social life. Up to 70% of women in all groups reported that their bleeding disorder had a significant impact on their ability or willingness to have children, or prevented it. Heavy menstrual bleeding was reported as the having the most significant impact on daily life. Women face barriers to diagnosis and care, including difficulty obtaining a referral and lack of knowledge among general practitioners and gynaecologists. While bleeding disorders share many symptoms, including bleeding after minor injury and trauma, the link between heavy menstrual bleeding and a bleeding disorder often goes unrecognised and its severity is underestimated. Screening is not offered to all eligible women despite the availability of long-established management guidelines; clinical tools to estimate severity may be unreliable. Failure to recognise a bleeding disorder in a woman is a multifactorial problem that is partly due to cultural reluctance to discuss menstruation. Public awareness campaigns are seeking to correct this, and many NMOs involve women in their initiatives and provide women-centred activities. However, a transformation in diagnosis is needed to shift the focus of treatment centres beyond boys and men with haemophilia, and to acknowledge the prevalence and severity of bleeding disorders in women.