Phospholipids – Function, Structure, Related Disorders

Phospholipids are essential components in the cell membrane and assist in physicochemical properties of the cell membrane. They influence the conformation of membrane-bound proteins and their function. Phospholipids also influence cell functionality and serve as precursors for prostaglandins.

A phospholipid is made up of two fatty acids and a glycerol component as well as a phosphate group. It is also made up of a polar molecule. A phospholipid behaves differently in water. The phosphate and polar head part of the phospholipid molecule is attracted to water meaning that it is hydrophilic. The fatty acid part found on the tail of the phospholipid is hydrophobic meaning that it is repelled by water.

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There are different disorders associated with phospholipids and they include low-phospholipid-associated cholelithiasis- LPAC and antiphospholipid syndrome.  The former is infrequent meaning that it affects only a peculiar small subgroup of patients who exhibit symptomatic gallstone disease. Patients with LPAC syndrome are mainly less than 40 years at the manifestation of the symptoms. This condition is associated with ABCB4 mutations. It is also associated with low biliary phospholipid concentration accompanied by symptomatic and reoccurring cholelithiasis.

Antiphospholipid syndrome

This is a condition in which the immune system attacks certain normal proteins in body. The immune system functions abnormally by mistakenly producing antibodies, which attack normal proteins in blood. This condition may lead to blood clots within veins and arteries. It may also result to complications in pregnancy including stillbirths and miscarriages.

Deep vein thrombosis- DVT is a condition in which there is formation of blood clots in legs. Antiphospholipid syndrome also could lead to clots in organs like lungs and kidneys causing organ malfunction. The damages caused by this condition depend on the location and extent of clot.

If the clot occurs in brain, it could lead to stroke. Although there is no cure for antiphospholipid syndrome, there are medications, which could be administered to help manage the condition and reduce the risks of blood clots.

Symptoms of antiphospholipid syndrome

A patient with this condition may experience blood clots in legs such as the deep vein thrombosis, which may travel to the lungs causing pulmonary embolism. In addition, a patient may have repeated miscarriages or stillbirths. Other complications of pregnancy may be witnessed including premature delivery and preeclampsia or elevated blood pressure in pregnancy.

In addition, some patients may experience stroke episodes when clotting occurs in brain’s blood vessels. There are other lesser common signs and they could entail a set of neurological symptoms like chronic headache, migraine, seizures and dementia. Seizures will occur when blood clots block the flow of blood to parts of brain. Other lesser common symptoms are the development of red rashes with net like pattern on knees and wrists.

Cardiovascular disease may also occur such as heart valve problems. Bleeding may also occur in some patients as a result of reduced platelets, which are responsible for normal clotting.  Other infrequency signs are such as movement disorder where the limbs and body jolt uncontrollably and this is called chorea. There may be cognitive problems like memory loss. Hearing loss that occurs abruptly may be another infrequent sign of antiphospholipid syndrome.

When to see a physician

If you have an autoimmune condition, you need to consult your doctor to determine whether you are susceptible to suffering antiphospholipid syndrome. A test for antiphospholipid antibodies is done. In addition, if you have pain or swelling on your legs or arms, you should see a doctor. This is especially so if the vein on legs or arms is red, swollen and tender.

An emergency care should be sought when the vein swelling comes with severe pain and high fever or difficulty in breaking. This could be an indication of deep vein thrombosis- DVT and may lead to increased chances of developing pulmonary embolism where blood clot travels and dislodges in lungs.

You also need to consult a doctor when you notice vaginal spotting or bleeding especially in the first 5 months of pregnancy. This may be a sign of possible miscarriage. Women who have had repeated pregnancy loses and unexplained complications in their pregnancy, should consult a doctor for intense medical examination as this could be associated with antiphospholipid syndrome. In essence, you need to discuss with your doctor to see if a test is necessary when you experience these signs

Who are at risk of suffering antiphospholipid syndrome?

When antibodies invade phospholipid-binding proteins, there is likelihood of developing abnormal blood clots. The primary cause of antiphospholipid syndrome is not known but there are some factors, which are associated with this condition although they may not necessarily mean that you will develop the condition. These include infections such as HIV, syphilis, malaria and hepatitis C.

Taking certain drugs such as hypertension medication hydralizine and heart rhythm-regulation drug like quinidine may also lead to increased chances of developing antiphospholipid syndrome. This condition is not considered hereditary but studies show that people of blood relation have high chances of developing the antibodies, which attack body proteins.

Treatment of antiphospholipid

Treatment of antiphospholipid is aimed at suppressing the clotting of blood. Anticoagulants may be used to thin blood when clots occur. If you are pregnant, specialized treatment is offered to ensure that you and the baby are safe but anticoagulant medication during pregnancy may be complicated.

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