Deep Vein Thrombosis (DTV) in Pregnancy: Everything You Should Know

Blog Post
By South Valley Vascular
March 31, 2022

Deep vein thrombosis, or DTV, happens when a blood clot forms in a vein deep inside your body. DTV in pregnancy is a rare but serious complication during gestation that can lead to a pulmonary embolism, or PE. Fortunately, DVT and PE are both treatable and often preventable. Let’s take a look at what you should know about DVT to protect yourself and your baby during and after pregnancy. 

How Common is DVT?

Pregnancy makes a woman approximately five times more likely than other women to have DVT. Even with those statistics, it only occurs in about one out of every 1,000 pregnancies, making it fairly uncommon. The risk of complication increases during the six weeks after birth but drops back to normal after eight weeks. 

Why is it More Common During Pregnancy?

When a woman is pregnant, her number of blood clotting proteins increases while the anti-clotting proteins decrease. This is most likely a body’s defense against hemorrhaging during childbirth. The uterus also presses more on veins as it expands, and blood flow in the legs reduces later in pregnancy. Combine all of that, and the risk begins to make more sense. 

Signs of DVT in Pregnancy

While not everyone experiences the signs of DVT in pregnancy, it is important to be aware of them just in case. Most commonly, a clot will form in the left leg first. Symptoms to look for are:

  • Pain or heavy feeling in the leg (especially when no injury has occurred)
  • Tenderness, redness, and warmth in areas of the calf or thigh
  • Swelling (slight or severe)
  • Veins that look larger than normal

If the clot has dislodged from the leg and moved to the lungs, you will experience a different set of symptoms. Speak to your doctor immediately if you experience:

  • Chest pains that worsen when you breathe and cough
  • Shortness of breath for no explainable reason
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Coughing up blood

Who is Most at Risk for DVT?

Deep vein Thrombosis is fairly uncommon, but some factors increase the risk of developing a clot. Risk factors include:

  • Family or personal history of venous thromboembolism
  • Thrombophilia or other blood clotting disorders
  • Carrying more than one baby
  • Prolonged labor
  • Postpartum hemorrhage or blood transfusion
  • C-section delivery
  • Hormone fertility treatments
  • Taking birth control pills
  • Hormone replacement therapy
  • Being over the age of 35
  • Smoking 
  • Bed rest
  • Medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer
  • Long-distance travel
  • Varicose veins

How Does DVT Affect the Baby?

Normally, the body breaks down clots before they become an issue. During pregnancy, there is an elevated risk that instead the clot will grow and break off. The clot travels through the blood to the lungs. This causes a pulmonary embolism, one of the most common pregnancy-related deaths in first-world countries. 

Blood clots can also form in the placenta, possibly resulting in miscarriage or stillbirth. This is most common with women who are already at higher risk for blood clots. Clots can also cause:

  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Miscarriage
  • Premature birth
  • Intrauterine growth restriction (a condition that interferes with your baby's growth)

Preventing, Managing, and Treating DVT

Treating DVT in pregnancy is mostly about prevention and management. Options like surgery should wait until well after the baby is born, for your safety and theirs. Be aware of DVT warning signs and let your doctor know if you have a history of clots. 

To reduce your risk:

  • Don’t sit still for too long. Move around as much as you are able, and avoid hindering your blood flow with things like crossing your legs.
  • Try raising and lowering your heels while keeping your toes on the floor, then raising your toes with your heels are on the floor.
  • Make lifestyle changes. Quit smoking, eat wisely, take care of your body.
  • Exercise as much as your doctor recommends.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Take prescribed blood thinners like heparin (safe for pregnancy as they don’t cross the placenta)
  • Wear compression stockings

South Valley Vascular’s team of board-certified professionals is here to help you through your pregnancy as safely as possible. Your health is our passion. If you have questions or would like to schedule a consultation, contact South Valley Vascular today.