To characterize the heterogeneity of severe (type III) von Willebrand disease (vWD), plasma and platelet von Willebrand factor antigen (vWF:Ag) and ristocetin cofactor activity (Ricof) were measured in 28 obligatory heterozygotes (ie, parents or children of probands from 15 different kindreds with severe vWD). On the average, heterozygotes had low levels of vWF in both platelets and plasma. There was, however, considerable heterogeneity, with four distinct patterns. Eleven heterozygotes had concordant reduction of vWF:Ag and Ricof in both plasma and platelets; five had low levels of vWF:Ag and Ricof in plasma contrasting with normal levels in platelets; eight had a peculiar pattern, the reverse of the above (ie, low levels in platelets and normal levels in plasma); and in one, both vWF measurements were normal in plasma and platelets. These patterns were genetically determined: they were consistent in four couples of consanguineous heterozygotes and in two couples carrying the same gene deletion. Only the remaining three heterozygotes had no clearly identifiable pattern. Other findings of this study were that although most of the heterozygotes had normal bleeding times, the 7 of 28 who had prolonged bleeding times had concordantly low levels of vWF measurements in both plasma and platelets. In conclusion, this large series of obligatory heterozygotes provides evidence for phenotypic and genotypic heterogeneity of severe vWD.