There is little safety data available on the use of epidural analgesia during pregnancy in women with von Willebrand disease (VWD), a common disorder comprising up to 0.1% of the population. Despite physiological increases in von Willebrand factor antigen and activity levels to normal or near levels during third trimester in Type 1 VWD patients, epidural analgesia use is varied and often withheld. We conducted a cross-sectional questionnaire in order to further characterize the local practice and provide additional safety data on epidural use in the VWD population.

We invited all women with VWD followed by the Southern Alberta Rare Blood and Bleeding Disorders Comprehensive Care Program to participate in an online or paper questionnaire. The questionnaire was part of a larger study identifying pregnancy complications in VWD, with additional questions collected on the diagnosis and severity of VWD, epidural use and associated outcomes, as well as the perceived contraindications of epidural analgesia. All questions were pre-tested by hematologists, obstetricians and laypeople. With patient consent, supplemental data was collected from clinic and hospital records. We included patients who were 18 years of age or older with a diagnosis of VWD, defined as von Willebrand factor (VWF) antigen and activity levels less than 50 percent or a historical diagnosis, in combination with a bleeding score of 4 or more (condensed MCMDM-1 bleeding questionnaire). Patients were excluded if they had no past pregnancies, no mailing address, or had an alternative bleeding disorder. Confidence intervals for proportions were calculated using the Wilson’s score method.

Of the 98 women with VWD who met the study inclusion criteria, 31 (32%) completed the questionnaire. There were 25 (81%) diagnosed with Type 1, 5 (16%) with Type 2, and 1 (3%) with Type 3 VWD. The mean bleeding score was 10.3 (SD 3.6). There were a total of 83 pregnancies (mean 2.7, range 1-6), with 60 deliveries assessed because of 20 pregnancy losses, 2 elective terminations, and 1 patient currently pregnancy. Of the 60 deliveries, the rate of epidural use was 28.3% (95% confidence interval 18.5-40.8, n=17). All epidural analgesia use was reported in women with Type 1 VWD. Of the 43 pregnancies without an epidural, the stated reasons were as follows: 10 because of concern for bleeding (23.3%), 25 because of personal preference (58.1%), 7 ‘other’ (16.3%), and 1 participant without a response (2.3%). In the 10 pregnancies where an epidural was not used due to bleeding concerns, 6 patients had Type 1 VWD and 1 patient had Type 2N VWD.

The outcome of epidural use in the VWD population was reassuring, 2 women reported their epidural analgesia to be ineffective, and 4 women reported neurological symptoms such as numbness, tingling or weakness. All neurological symptoms were temporary with no persistent deficits or documented complication of bleeding.

Due to the retrospective nature of this study, VWF antigen and activity levels at the time of delivery were not available, limiting the conclusions that can be made on the safety of epidural use based on VWF levels. It is our local practice to proceed with epidural analgesia if a patient’s VWF antigen and activity levels measured in third trimester are greater than 50%. For VWF levels less than 50%, epidural analgesia would only be considered with appropriate DDAVP or factor concentrate replacement.

In summary, our local rate of epidural use was close to 30% in the VWD population, which was primarily composed of Type 1 VWD patients. Outcome data is reassuring, but a larger cohort study is needed to further quantify rare risks such as neuraxial bleeding.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.

This icon denotes a clinically relevant abstract