Part of the joy of being pregnant is the feeling of change throughout the body over a relatively short period of time. Some of those shifts may come as a not-so-pleasant surprise to expectant mothers, however. Weight gain, aching and swollen joints, and digestive issues may all run the show when cultivating a tiny human. While most uncomfortable medical conditions that go hand in hand with pregnancy are benign, there are a few issues that warrant a mother’s attention.
Deep vein thrombosis, most commonly referred to as DVT, occurs in nearly one in every 1,000 pregnancies in the UK. While that may not sound like a high occurrence rate, the condition is far more common among pregnant women than any other demographic group. DVT is a condition that involves a blood clot forming in the deep veins of the legs. When the clot occurs, legs can swell and become painful and, in rare cases, it may break off and travel to the lungs. Here is what expectant mothers and fathers need to know about deep vein thrombosis, the condition’s symptoms, and methods of prevention.
Who’s at Risk?
While anyone can develop deep vein thrombosis throughout a lifetime, pregnant women are more likely to develop the condition than those who are not expecting. However, women who have the following risk factors may be at a higher risk of developing DVT while carrying a child to term:
Having previously had a clot
Being over the age of 35
Having a BMI of 30 or higher
Carrying twins (or more)
Undergoing fertility treatment
Having a caesarean section
Being immobile for extended periods
Having severe varicose veins
At any stage of the pregnancy including up to six weeks after delivery, a clot could form and lead to a handful of health challenges for the mother. The condition is far more common in pregnant women for a variety of reasons, one being the compression in the pelvis from the baby. For some, pregnancy hormones such as estrogen play a significant part in increasing the risk of clots forming, while others simply experience a change in clotting factors in the blood that begins early on in pregnancy.
No matter the underlying cause or risk factor associated with DVT in pregnancy, the symptoms are often similar. For most women, DVT occurs in a single leg and can be recognised by the following warning signs: swelling of the leg, pain, warmed skin, tenderness of the leg, or redness. The challenging part of getting care for DVT while one is pregnant is that these symptoms look and feel the same as other non-DVT related changes in the body that are common, and unharmful, during pregnancy.
Not every ache of pain means a diagnosis of deep vein thrombosis is imminent. However, women should seek immediate medical care when the symptoms listed above become persistent or seem out of the ordinary. Also, when a clot from DVT begins to travel to the lungs – a potentially fatal condition – other, more severe warning signs may take place. A sudden difficulty in breathing, tightness in the chest or persistent pain, or a sudden collapse all point to a more serious problem. Fortunately, once a medical professional has diagnosed and treated DVT, the chance of it developing into a more complicated issue is small.
Preventing DVT during Pregnancy
The great news for expectant mothers is that deep vein thrombosis can be prevented through simple tactics. According to Eddie Chaloner, a vascular surgeon at Radiance Vein Clinic, preventing blood clots during pregnancy begins with keeping the blood flowing as much as possible. For most women, this means getting regular exercise, so long as the doctor gives the thumbs up to do so, and walking or stretching every few hours to keep the legs from becoming idle. Some women may need to move their legs while sitting by either raising or lowering the heel and then the toes to keep blood pumping normally.
Chaloner suggests other prevention ideas for those who are a high risk of developing DVT, including wearing compression stockings to prevent clots in the legs. Compression stockings may work for some, while others may require a preventative dose of an anticoagulant during pregnancy. Both are safe for the development of the baby, and strategies to prevent DVT may continue until six to eight weeks after the baby is born.
Although deep vein thrombosis sounds a bit scary, it is not an inevitable diagnosis for all women expecting a child. There are several prevention tactics that can be easily followed to reduce the possibility of developing DVT as a pregnant woman. When the right steps are taken, and the symptoms of DVT are recognised early in the pregnancy, expectant mothers have a high probability of avoiding a more serious problem of traveling blood clots during and after pregnancy.