Co-Authors: Jason Raasch, MD, Mark Glaum, PhD, Maeve O’Connor, MD
Hereditary angioedema (HAE) is a rare, chronic, debilitating genetic disorder characterized by recurrent, unpredictable, and potentially life-threatening episodes of swelling that typically affect the extremities, face, abdomen, genitals, and larynx. The most frequent cause of HAE is a mutation in the serpin family G member 1 (SERPING1) gene, which either leads to deficient plasma levels of the C1-esterase inhibitor (C1–INH) protein (type I HAE-C1-INH) or normal plasma levels of dysfunctional C1–INH protein (type II HAE-C1-INH). Mutations in SERPING1 are known to be associated with dysregulation of the kallikrein-bradykinin cascade leading to enhancement of bradykinin production and increased vascular permeability. However, some patients present with a third type of HAE (HAE-nl-C1-INH) that is characterized by normal plasma levels and functionality of the C1–INH protein. While mutations in the factor XII, angiopoietin-1, plasminogen, kininogen-1, myoferlin, and heparan sulfate-glucosamine 3-O-sulfotransferase-6 genes have been identified in some patients with HAE-nI-C1-INH, genetic cause remains unknown in many cases with further research required to fully elucidate the pathology of disease in these patients. Here we review the challenges that arise on the pathway to a confirmed diagnosis of HAE and explore the multifactorial impact of receiving a HAE diagnosis. We conclude that it is important to continue to raise awareness of HAE because delays to diagnosis have a direct impact upon patient suffering and quality of life. Since many patients will seek help from hospitals during their first swelling attack it is vital that emergency department staff are aware of the different pathological pathways that distinguish HAE from other forms of angioedema to ensure that the most appropriate treatment is administered.
As disease awareness increases, it is hoped that patients will be diagnosed earlier and that pre-authorization and insurance coverage of HAE treatments will become easier to obtain, ultimately reducing the burden of treatment for these patients and their caregivers.