Raised circulating von Willebrand factor is a recognised marker of vascular injury. To evaluate the role of vascular injury in the pathogenesis of inflammatory bowel disease, serum von Willebrand factor in Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, confirmed bacterial diarrhoea, and healthy subjects was measured. von Willebrand factor values were raised in 9/14 patients (p = 0.007) with active Crohn's disease, 15/28 (p = 0.0004) with inactive Crohn's disease, 16/23 (p = 0.0003) with active ulcerative colitis, 9/27 (p = 0.04) with inactive ulcerative colitis, and 15/17 (p = 0.0001) patients with bacterial diarrhoea. Serum von Willebrand factor was unrelated to disease activity in Crohn's disease but was significantly raised in active (p = 0.02) compared with inactive ulcerative colitis. In contrast to controls, the detection of von Willebrand factor from inflammatory bowel disease sera and that from fractured endothelial cells was significantly inhibited by the reducing agent, dithiothreitol, suggesting the presence of an additional dithiothreitol sensitive form of the molecule derived from injured endothelial cells in inflammatory bowel disease. That serum von Willebrand factor is raised in quiescent as well as active Crohn's disease is compatible with the proposal that vascular injury is a fundamental abnormality in this disorder. The raised von Willebrand factor values in active inflammatory bowel disease and bacterial diarrhoea could be caused by either vascular injury, occurring secondary to bowel inflammation, or to an acute phase response resulting from endothelial cell stimulation by mediators released during the inflammatory process. Raised circulating von Willebrand factor could contribute to the increased risk of thrombosis associated with active inflammatory bowel disease.
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