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What is Hemophilia?

The word "hemophilia" comes from two Greek words: haima, meaning blood, and philia, meaning affection. It is pronounced "he-mo-feel-ia".1

Hemophilia is not a condition you can 'catch' — it is hereditary, meaning it is passed on from one or both parents to the child, who then carries the gene for hemophilia, and has the condition from birth.1,2

People with hemophilia, commonly referred to as hemophiliacs, have a problem with clotting in their blood. Clotting is the process by which your blood forms a solid plug, to help stop bleeding. Because they are lacking one of several blood-clotting proteins, called factors, they bleed for a longer time than other people. This doesn’t mean that they bleed more profusely or quickly than others, just that they don’t stop bleeding as quickly.1,2

Hemophiliacs don’t have a problem with minor cuts, which is a common myth. The real danger is from internal bleeding, or haemorrhaging. Bleeding in joints like the knees, elbow, and ankles, or into tissues and muscles can be a real problem, and can lead to swelling and pain in the affected area, and even permanent damage. When bleeding happens in a vital organ, especially the brain, it can put the person’s life in danger.1,3,4

The most common type of hemophilia is called hemophilia A, or classical hemophilia. Since it is caused by the lack of factor 8 in the blood (written factor VIII), it is also referred to as factor VIII deficiency hemophilia. Hemophilia B, or Christmas Disease, was first diagnosed in a Canadian named Steven Christmas in 1952. Caused by a lack of factor 9 (written factor IX), it is also referred to as factor IX deficiency hemophilia.1 Hemophilia C, which is the rarest form, is caused by a lack of factor XI (eleven), and is also referred to as factor XI (eleven) deficiency hemophilia. Unlike A and B, which can only be passed on by the mother, hemophilia C is caused by a gene from both the mother and father.5