Preventing Deep Vein Thrombosis in Pregnancy
Pregnant women must brave a plethora of symptoms. No two pregnancies are the same, and every woman experiences vastly different symptoms and signs of a complicated pregnancy. While not common, Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) is a condition pregnant women have an increased risk of developing. Pregnant women are five times more likely to develop DVT than non-pregnant women.
DVT by itself, if caught and treated swiftly, does not pose a threat to the fetus. However, if left untreated for too long, the risk for developing a Pulmonary Embolism (PE) increases. PE is a potentially fatal condition that results from a piece of a blood clot breaking free and finding its way into the lungs. This condition is very serious, and you should seek the help of medical professionals right away.
While not common, certain risk factors raise the chance of developing DVT. Women most commonly experience risks during the first trimester of pregnancy and in the first three months postpartum. The following are the most common risk factors:
- Being on bed rest
- Living a sedentary lifestyle
- Being overweight
- Having a family history of DVT or other blood clots
- Having a personal history of DVT or other blood clots
- Being age 35 and older
- Carrying multiple fetuses (twins, triplets, etc.)
- Undergoing fertility treatment
- Delivering via C-section
- Contracting frequent Urinary Tract Infections (UTI) during pregnancy
If you have any of these risk factors above and are pregnant or are planning to become pregnant, talk to your doctor about preemptive prevention methods.
Symptoms and signs
Most women will not need to worry about DVT as it occurs in less than three out of every 1,000 pregnancies. However, it is helpful to know the signs, risk factors, and symptoms just in case.
If part of the skin starts to feel feverish, you may need to consult a doctor. DVT commonly occurs in the lower legs of pregnant women, so pay close attention to the back of the knee and the calves. This is crucial to an early diagnosis and treatment.
Many women describe the pain as replicating leg cramps that are common in the last trimester. The difference in pain from a muscle cramp and the pain from DVT is that muscle cramps will experience relief from stretching and moving around. DVT pain will not only persist but often it will worsen with movement.
If the affected area is red or appears flush, it may be a sign of DVT. Regular inspection of your legs when dressing or undressing is one way to watch for this subtle sign of trouble.
When parts of the body, namely the legs and feet, feel more tender than usual, you should contact a doctor. Tenderness can be a sign of DVT, and many women often overlook this.
A major indicator of DVT is sudden swelling. Swelling from DVT can range from mild to severe depending on the severity of the blood clot, the number of clots, and locations. If swelling of the legs or feet occurs, it could be a sign of DVT, even though lower leg and foot swelling are common symptoms of pregnancy without DVT.
There are a few ways to attempt to prevent DVT from developing in a pregnant woman or those in the first few months postpartum.
Wearing compression gear while pregnant can help to prevent DVT from developing. Pregnant women should always consult their doctors before self-treating—even with compression garments. A low compression level can help blood keep moving, even with the increased estrogen levels and pressure on lower veins from the enlarged uterus. Compression gear doesn’t have to be unsightly or uncomfortable either. Women can opt for a stylish choice such as compression pantyhose, which looks the same as regular pantyhose. You can wear them discreetly without a change in lifestyle.
If a pregnant woman displays high-risk factors or signs of DVT, doctors will often prescribe a preventative dose of pregnancy-safe blood thinners to ensure DVT cannot form. Always consult a doctor and a pharmacist before taking any medication while pregnant and be sure to discuss other medications you take to check for potential interactions.
Regular exercise and a healthy lifestyle are highly effective, low-risk methods of preventing DVT in pregnant women. They can even aid with more extreme prevention methods in women with high-risk factors. Consulting a doctor to find the best pregnancy-safe exercises is a great place to start when considering a more active pregnancy for DVT prevention and overall health.
If a pregnant woman does develop DVT, it’s important to receive a diagnosis right away and work to treat it. DVT, when left untreated, can turn into PE—a life-threatening condition. Here are the most common treatments recommended for pregnant women suffering from DVT.
Once a doctor confirms DVT, depending on the severity, they will prescribe a pregnancy-safe blood thinner at a higher dose. They will also typically monitor the blood clots via ultrasound. Once the DVT subsides, often the patient will continue to take a blood thinner at a lower, preventative dose to ensure it does not return or turn into PE.
Medical professionals can monitor blood clots via ultrasound, blood tests, and a D-dimer test. A doctor should be in charge of follow up care and ensure patients feel well-informed, safe, and comfortable with the treatment plan. They often also recommend wearing compression socks or gear to work with medications to help prevent further clotting.
DVT is not a very common condition, although it does tend to affect pregnant women more than non-pregnant women. If pregnant women have concerns or notice symptoms, they should consult a doctor right away, as they can inform her of any heightened risk factors she may possess. You should also consult a doctor before using compression garments while pregnant, as some require or recommend prescriptions for higher strength compression.
Unless there are serious complications, DVT should not affect the health of the fetus and should not endanger the mother’s life. Always look for signs of PE after a DVT diagnosis: shortness of breath, chest pain, unexplained coughing or coughing up blood. PE is a more serious condition than DVT, and you should have a medical professional address it at the first sign.
- Elyse Aufmann