Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a medical condition that may occur during pregnancy. It is a condition with a blood clot in a vein, especially the leg. It is a type of venous thromboembolism (VTE), a blood clot in a deep vein. Blood clots in the legs can be dangerous because if the blood clot breaks off, it can travel to the other parts of the body and block the blood vessels. Blood clots that break off may travel from the leg to the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism, which may be fatal. Thus, you should meet a doctor if you suspect you are having symptoms of deep vein thrombosis. There are certain pregnancy complications that you may already know, like gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia. However, having blood clots in the legs during or after pregnancy is a relatively common complication, and you should know about it. Fortunately, this condition is treatable and preventable among women who are at risk.
What causes blood clots in the legs after pregnancy?
Venous stasis is one of the causes of the development of DVT. This is a condition of slow blood flow in the veins, especially in the leg. Venous stasis occurs during pregnancy due to the hormones that are produced during pregnancy. Due to enlarging of the uterus, some veins will be compressed, which lead to venous stasis.
Women are five times more likely to develop DVT during or after pregnancy than when not pregnant. Women during pregnancy are in a hypercoagulable state, a state where the blood will clot easily. This state is to protect women from excessive bleeding during childbirth. One of the leading causes of death during childbirth in developing nations is excessive bleeding. However, the leading cause of maternal death in developed countries is an embolic disease, when the blood clot blocks the blood vessels. The risk of blood clots forming is increased in the first six weeks after childbirth.
A thin layer of the blood vessels may be damaged at the time of delivery, which may cause DVT after pregnancy.
To summarize what causes blood clots in the legs after pregnancy, the level of blood-clotting proteins rises while the level of anti-clotting proteins decreases. Other factors that can cause the development of DVT during pregnancy are an enlarged uterus, which increases the pressure on the veins and a lack of movement caused by prolonged bed rest.
Who has a higher risk of developing DVT?
- Family or personal history of VTE
- Having inherited blood clotting disorder
- overweight or obese
- on strict bed rest
- Women that have pre-eclampsia or chronic illnesses like hypertension, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease or other vascular diseases
- Cesarean section
- Women who have excessive bleeding after delivery or need a blood transfusion
What are the symptoms and signs of DVT?
The common symptoms of deep vein thrombosis during and after pregnancy are as follows:
- Heavy feeling or pain in the leg
- Warmth and redness of the calf
- Swelling of the leg
When should you see a doctor?
If you or a member of your immediate family, such as a parent or sibling, has been diagnosed with DVT, inform your healthcare provider. Depending on your medical history, your doctor may recommend a blood test to determine whether you have thrombophilia, which raises your risk of blood clots. If you have thrombophilia, your doctor may decide to start you on blood thinners merely to be on the safe side, rather than risk more complications.
If you observe any of the symptoms listed above (particularly during pregnancy or during the first eight weeks after birth), contact your healthcare provider right away to schedule an appointment. Your doctor may perform a test on you (such as a blood test, ultrasound, or other imaging tests) to determine whether you have a DVT.