Deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, occurs when a blood clot forms in a large, deep vein such as those in your legs. Women are 10 times more likely to develop DVT during pregnancy, or the six weeks after birth, than at any other time. While that sounds like a lot, DVT still isn’t that common – only around one or two women in every 1,000 develop DVT during pregnancy or shortly after birth.
What causes DVT?
One reason for the increased risk of DVT is because your blood clots more easily in pregnancy, possibly to help prevent bleeding after birth.
Another reason is slower blood flow. Your circulation is more sluggish in pregnancy because higher progesterone levels relax your veins, and because you might be doing less activity.
What are the symptoms of DVT?
Symptoms of DVT often include:
- Pain or tenderness in your leg.
- Swelling of your leg.
- Increased skin temperature.
- Redness on your skin.
If you have any of these, contact your midwife or GP at once.
Diagnosing and treating DVT
DVT is often diagnosed by a scan. Blood-thinning medication can be prescribed to stop the blood clot getting bigger, allowing your body to dissolve the clot. It’s given by injection (you’ll be shown how to do this for yourself). If a blood clot is found while you’re pregnant, you’ll also be advised to wear an elastic compression stocking for the rest of your pregnancy and in the first few weeks after birth. You’ll have regular check-ups and blood tests for the rest of your pregnancy, but won’t have to stay in hospital.
In rare cases, DVT isn’t diagnosed unless a complication, like a pulmonary embolus, occurs. If this happens you may experience:
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain
- Loss of consciousness
Simple exercises to improve your leg circulation
- Move your foot in circles, first to the left then the right
- Point your foot away from you to stretch your ankle
“My GP suspected DVT”
“During my pregnancy my legs were painful and swelled to nearly twice their size. My GP suspected DVT and sent me for scans. Although they didn’t find a clot, I had injections to thin my blood and prevent clots.”
Caroline, 33, mum to Bronwyn, 17 months, and Leighton, 13 weeks