Blood Clots and Pregnancy

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Women who are pregnant or who have just had a baby are at increased risk for developing blood clots.

The most common type of clot in pregnancy occurs in the deep veins of the legs, known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). These clots can be hazardous to your health when they break free and travel throughout the body. A potentially fatal condition known as pulmonary embolism can occur when these clots block the arteries in the lungs, keeping your blood from getting the oxygen your body needs. Clots can travel to other parts of the body as well, including to the placenta, where they can block the flow of blood to the fetus.

What causes increased blood clots?

Your blood clots more easily when you’re pregnant because your body is preparing itself to curb any blood loss that might occur during labor and birth. Blood flow from your legs can be restricted as your baby grows and presses against your veins. During birth, it’s also possible that your veins will be damaged, which can raise your chances of developing a clot. Women are more likely to develop clots in the first six weeks after giving birth. Finally, hormones released during pregnancy, like estrogen, can also make your blood more prone to clotting.

How do I know I have a clot?

Recognizing the symptoms of blood clots is critical to seeking help and early medical intervention. Symptoms include irritation or redness at the site of the clot and pain and swelling in the affected limb. Swelling in the legs can be common during pregnancy, so look for signs that swelling is occurring in one leg but not the other. Talk to your doctor if you have other risks for clotting such as previous history of DVT, history of smoking, obesity or a recent and lengthy period of immobility through bed rest or long-distance travel.

How do I prevent and treat clots?

Help prevent clots by staying hydrated, eating healthy foods, and staying active. If you are on bed rest or travelling, get up frequently or do leg exercises to increase circulation. You can also wear compression socks, which squeeze your leg, making your blood flow more quickly.

If you are at risk for clots, your doctor may prescribe prophylaxis medications that help prevent clots from developing. And if you do develop one, anticoagulant treatments can help break it up. Your doctor will tell you when and how long to take these medications and can also advise you about which medications to take if you’re breastfeeding.