Pregnancy increases risk of deep vein thrombosis
Candice Wood, MD, is an obstetrician/gynecologist at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix.
Question: I’m pregnant and just read an article about deep vein thrombosis. Does pregnancy raise the risk of this condition, and if so, what symptoms should I be watching for?
Answer: Deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, is a blood clot that forms in the deep veins of the body, most commonly in the legs, pelvis and sometimes, arms. Pregnancy and the immediate post-partum period are risk factors for DVT because pregnancy affects the three factors that typically cause blood clots: decreased rate of blood flow, damage to blood vessels, and a greater tendency for the blood to form clots, called hypercoagulability. Hormones and pressure on major blood vessels during pregnancy reduce the blood flow rate, and injury to blood vessels during child birth is common. Pregnancy hormones also increase clotting factors while reducing the body’s ability to break down those clots.
A pregnant woman who has a DVT might experience redness, pain, swelling and warmth over the area of the clot, though any one of these symptoms alone or in any combination can indicate the condition. Expectant mothers with a history of blood clots or a known hypercoagulability disorder should discuss with their doctor whether they need to be placed on blood thinners. Unfortunately, there is no medication used solely for DVT prevention in pregnant patients with no prior history of clots because of the risks of the current treatments. However, expectant mothers can take some precautions, such as lying on their left side when sleeping or resting to decrease pressure on the major veins in the lower part of the body; getting up regularly to walk and stretch, especially during periods of immobility like a car ride or airplane trip; and wearing special compression stockings to increase blood flow in the legs.
If you believe you might have a DVT, please consult your physician for an exam. If a DVT is diagnosed, your doctor will discuss the best course of action for your particular situation.