Pregnant? Don't Overlook Blood Clots

Pregnant women holding baby clothes with her husband
Pregnant or recently delivered a baby? Don’t overlook blood clots.

Although anyone can develop a blood clot, women are at higher risk for a blood clot during pregnancy, childbirth, and up to 3-months after delivering a baby. In fact, pregnant women are 5 times more likely to experience a blood clot compared with women who are not pregnant. Don’t let a blood clot spoil your joy during this exciting time! Learn about pregnancy-related blood clots and tips on protecting yourself and your baby for a safe and healthy pregnancy.

What is a blood clot?

A blood clot in the deep vein (also known as a deep vein thrombosis or DVT) is a medical condition that typically occurs in the lower leg, thigh, pelvis or arm. When a DVT is left untreated, a part of the clot can break off and travel to the lungs, causing a blockage called a pulmonary embolism (PE). A PE can stop blood from reaching the lungs and can be deadly. Although blood clots are preventable, a PE is one of the most common causes of pregnancy-related death in the United States.

Why are pregnant women at higher risk for a blood clot?

Natural changes in a woman’s body during pregnancy, childbirth, and the 3-month period after delivery can put women at higher risk for a blood clot. During pregnancy, a woman’s blood clots more easily to lessen blood loss during labor and delivery. Pregnant women may also experience less blood flow to the legs later in pregnancy because the blood vessels around the pelvis are pressed upon by the growing baby. In addition, limited or lack of movement (immobility) due to bed rest after delivery can limit blood flow in the legs and arms, increasing a woman’s risk for a blood clot.

Blood clots are preventable: Learn how to protect yourself and your baby
  • Know your risk for a blood clot. Pregnancy is one factor that can put women at higher risk for developing a blood clot, but other factors can increase your risk for a blood clot, including:
    • A family or personal history of blood clots or a blood clotting disorder;
    • Delivery by C-section;
    • Prolonged immobility (not moving a lot), such as during bed rest or recovery after delivery;
    • Complications of pregnancy and childbirth; and
    • Certain long-term medical conditions, such as heart or lung conditions, or diabetes.

The likelihood of developing a blood clot increases with the more risk factors you have. Use the Blood Clot Risk Checklist for pregnant women to help you determine your risk.

  • Talk with your doctor about your risk, and see if you might benefit from a prevention plan to reduce your chances of developing a blood clot. Use the Blood Clot Prevention Checklist for pregnant women and discuss it with your doctor.
  • Know the signs and symptoms of a blood clot so you can seek medical treatment right away if needed. Early treatment can help prevent a DVT from breaking off and traveling to the lungs as a PE.
    • Although a DVT can occur without any symptoms, the following are the most common signs and symptoms of a DVT:
      • Swelling of the affected limb
      • Pain or tenderness not caused by injury
      • Skin that is warm to the touch, red, or discolored

If you experience any of these signs or symptoms, alert your doctor as soon as possible

  • Know the signs and symptoms of a PE and seek medical treatment to prevent death. The following are the most common signs and symptoms of a PE:
    • Difficulty breathing
    • Chest pain that worsens with a deep breath or cough.
    • Coughing up blood
    • Faster than normal or irregular heartbeat

Seek medical treatment immediately when you experience any of these signs and symptoms.

  • Move your legs frequently and exercise your calf muscles when you are traveling long distances (more than 4 hours) to improve blood flow in your legs.
    • Get up and walk around if space allows.
    • Do seated leg stretches:
      • Extend your legs straight out and move your ankles to pull your toes toward you and then push them away from you.
      • Pull each knee up towards the chest and hold it there with your hands on your lower leg for 15 seconds. Repeat up to 10 times.
Debra’s Story
Debra with her son

“I’m Debra Turner Bryant, and I want to share my experience with blood clots during pregnancy. Through my personal story, I hope that other women can better understand the very real possibility of a blood clot during pregnancy, and perhaps even save a life.” Read Debra’s full story here.

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