Pregnancy and Deep Vein Thrombosis: All You Need To know

You might think that deep vein thrombosis is primarily a condition that inflicts older people; however, pregnant women should be concerned about the symptoms DVT causes and how it can be prevented. Here is a sobering statistic: pregnant women are five to ten times more likely to develop DVT compared to non-pregnant women.

March is DVT Awareness Month, an ideal opportunity to find out everything there is to know about this condition and its potentially life-threatening impact on both yourself and your baby.

DVT is caused by excessive clotting in the veins and most commonly occurs in the legs, thighs or pelvis. It is important to remember that if left untreated, the effects can be very serious.

Why should pregnant women be more concerned about DVT?

One of the side effects of pregnancy is an increased level of blood clotting, which can make it far more likely for a woman to develop a blood clot. In addition, anticlotting protein levels also decrease during pregnancy which can increase the chances of DVT unless precautions are taken. During pregnancy, the enlarged uterus places additional pressure on the veins to return blood to the heart which in some cases can lead to a blood clot such as DVT developing.

Genetic and lifestyle factors also play a key role in making pregnant women more likely to develop DVT such as whether a woman has already suffered from thrombophilia, where the blood clots at a faster rate, or if there is a family history of thrombosis. Other risk factors can include obesity and whether the woman is pregnant over the age of 35 or expecting twins. Anyone who has also suffered from varicose veins, either during or before their pregnancy, is likely to be more susceptible to developing a blood clot so additional care should be taken.

One of the successes of DVT Awareness Month has been raising awareness among women who may be at greater risk. Blood clotting should be a serious concern for women throughout their pregnancy and even six months after giving birth

What are the signs of DVT?

In many cases, the most obvious symptom of a blood clot will be severe pain or tenderness and swelling in one of your legs. It is worth remembering that around 80% of the time, DVT in pregnant women occurs in the left leg. Sometimes DVT can be symptomless, but pain, swelling or reddening of the skin at the back of the leg will usually affect sufferers.

DVT or Muscle Cramps?

It can be easy to mistake the symptoms of DVT for muscle cramps which are a common infliction experienced by pregnant women. These cramps typically affect the calf area during the second and third trimesters. This pain can often be eased with gentle stretching, which will make no difference to a blood clot. Also, muscle cramps will not cause swelling in your leg so if you are experiencing this symptom then it is vital that you consult a medical practitioner.

Pregnant women must seek medical advice as quickly as possible if they think that they may have developed a blood clot. An expert at vein surgery specialists Radiance Vein Clinic explains that if DVT is left untreated, blood clots can lead to even more serious complications such as pulmonary embolism, where a blood vessel in the lungs becomes blocked by a piece of the blood clot. Although fairly uncommon in pregnant women, they are at a far greater risk of developing the condition than women who are not pregnant. This affects around 10% of sufferers of DVT if the clot is left untreated and can result in chest pains, breathing difficulties and even heart failure.

Post-Thrombotic Syndrome

Longer-term impacts are also a risk. Between 20-40% of deep vein thrombosis sufferers later develop post-thrombotic syndrome which sees increased pressure in the veins as a result of diverted blood flow from the veins affected by the blood clot. Symptoms can include calf pain, swelling and even ulcers in some of the most severe cases.

Treating DVT

Pregnant women who have developed DVT have several options but the most common treatment is low molecular weight heparin (LMWH) anticoagulation medicine. This treatment does not require a hospital stay and, crucially, has no effect on your baby. LMWH prevents the clot from increasing in size as well as helping it to dissolve and reducing the risk of further clots. This treatment does have side effects including an increase in bleeding but these are less severe than the standard treatment. Pregnant women who begin this treatment will need to continue the course for a minimum of six weeks after the birth.

One of the best ways of preventing a blood clot from developing in the first place is incorporating regular exercise into your daily routine. Even deep into your pregnancy there are basic exercises such as rotating your ankles as well as alternating between rising and lowering your leg which can keep you and your baby healthy. These movements assist blood flow and prevent blood pooling in the calf which can lead to the development of DVT and are one of the simplest ways that pregnant women can reduce the risk of blood clots.

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