DVT in pregnancy

Mums-to-be are at a greater risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis. Here's what you need to know

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You’ll have probably heard about Deep Vein Thrombosis back when you were trying not to get pregnant. DVT is when a blood clot forms in a large vein far below the skin’s surface – often in your leg but sometimes in your pelvis – and taking the Pill can increase your risk.

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Flying is also linked to this life-threatening condition, because you are sat in the same, cramped position for so long. This is why you are encouraged to do stretches, walk around regularly and don those sexy circulation socks on planes.

So, how is DVT linked to pregnancy?

Well, you’re ten times more likely to develop DVT while pregnant than not, and for the six weeks after you give birth, than at any other time. This is because your blood clots more easily in pregnancy, possibly to help prevent bleeding after birth.

The other reasons is that your circulation is more sluggish, meaning you have slower blood flow. This is probably due to higher progesterone levels relaxing your veins, and also because you are simply doing less activity than before.

Don’t be alarmed though – DVT in pregnancy isn’t that common. Only around one or two mums-to-be in every 1,000 develop it. But it is sensible to be aware of the signs, because swift action makes it much more treatable.

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What symptoms should I be looking out for?

Pain and tenderness is the most noticeable symptom. It will be in one of your legs and worsen when walking or as you bend your knee.

This is combined with a redness or swelling in the same leg. Your skin may feel warm and you may notice veins on your leg look larger than normal.

The symptoms may be harder to notice in pregnancy, as your legs may be more swollen or red than usual. If you think you have any of these, contact your doctor or midwife straight away.

So it’s not dangerous?

Although DVT can block blood flow and be painful, it is easy to diagnose and treat. “It’s unlikely to harm you or your baby unless there are severe complications, which are rare as long as you follow your midwife and doctor’s advice regarding treatment,” says Dr Stacey Palastrand, a GP and mum.

However, long-term DVT can cause permanent swelling of your veins and fluid retention, which is why it’s important to get it checked out early.

There’s also the risk of developing a Pulmonary Embolism (PE), which is when the clot dislodges and travels to your lungs. This is rare but can be fatal. Symptoms to look out for include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing
  • Light-headedness
  • Loss of consciousness

MFMer Bennettnic says: “I’ve had three lots of pulmonary embolisms over the last few years. The symptoms for me were cramp-like feelings in my calf, which after a day or two resulted in more pain and I had to limp. After about four or five days, I experienced pains in my right hand side and then became breathless. If you get any symptoms like these, get to A&E straight away. I was in intensive care for ten weeks last time and was very lucky.”

Spotting and getting treatment for DVT as soon as possible will lessen the risk of getting a PE.

What does treatment involve?

“You will most likely be given daily injections of a blood thinning agent, such as Clexane, for the remainder of the pregnancy and for six weeks after,” says Dr Palastrand. “This is safe for the baby.”  

Blood-thinning medication (known as low molecular weight heparin or LMWH) works by:

  • Stopping the clot getting bigger
  • Allow the clot to dissolve in the body
  • Reducing the risk of further clots in the leg

You’ll need to have regular check-ups and blood tests to make sure that the clot dissolves and no further clots appear.

“Once you’ve had the baby, if you want to breast feed, you will be advised to stop the LMWH injections and start a tablet called Warfarin so that the baby’s blood doesn’t thin,” says Dr Palastrand.

My mum had a clot. Am I at high risk?

You might be. There are lots of factors that can increase your risk of developing DVT in pregnancy and immediately after the birth. These include:

  • Previous history of clots or DVT
  •  A family history of DVT
  • Being over 35
  • Having a BMI of 30 or more
  • Carrying twins or multiple babies
  • Having fertility treatment
  • Having just had a caesarean
  • Sitting still for long periods of times, such as on long-haul flights
  • Smoking

Mums-to-be considered to be high risk will be offered the same treatment as pregnant women with DVT, as a precaution.

Alfiesmummy1 says: “I had two DVTs in 2008 due to the combined Pill I was on. When I got pregnant I had to have daily injections of Clexane until six weeks after little Alfie was born. They are pretty painless. I also had to have extra blood tests too. But, prevention is better than cure, believe me!”

“My mum had a clot near her heart so I was considered high risk because of this. I had extra scans and Clexane injections during my pregnancy, which were really quick – they just go into your tummy every day,” says MFMer Iwantanotherpls

How do I stop myself getting DVT?

“It’s not possible to prevent a DVT by a single action,” says Dr Palastrand. But there are various things you can do to reduce your risk:

  • Keep active and don’t sit for long periods of time, especially if you have restricted movement for any reason
  • If you are going on a flight, make sure you wear flight socks and walk around at least once every hour
  • See your GP or midwife if you notice any pain, redness or swelling in legs or calves
  • If you smoke, quit!

I’ve had DVT in pregnancy – what does this mean if want another baby?

You’ll certainly need to take care as you have an increased chance of another one, but there’s no reason not to get pregnant again. Your midwife will most likely suggest giving you preventative treatment just in case.    

“I suffered from a PE (on my left lung) straight after my little boy was born and I’m on warfarin at the minute. I was told by the consultant that it was a very rare pregnancy complication and that if I decide to try for another baby I will need to be on Heparin,” says Mummy2bump

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