What is blood clots during and after pregnancy?

Blood clots during pregnancy: Overview

Blood clots can form in superficial veins and in deep veins. Blood clots in superficial veins rarely cause serious problems. But clots in deep veins (deep vein thrombosis, or DVT) need immediate medical care.

These clots are dangerous because they can break loose, travel through the bloodstream to the lungs, and block blood flow in the lungs. This is called pulmonary embolism. It can be life-threatening.

DVT can also lead to long-lasting problems. If there is damage to the vein it may cause the leg to ache, swell, and change color.

Changes in hormones and blood flow during pregnancy and after delivery can increase your risk of getting a blood clot. If your mobility is limited, that can also increase the risk.

Blood clots in deep veins are usually treated with a blood thinner (anticoagulant). A blood thinner can stop the blood clot from growing larger. And it can prevent new clots from forming.

What are the symptoms of blood clots during pregnancy?

Symptoms of deep vein thrombosis (blood clot in a vein) include pain, swelling, redness or any change in color, or warmth in just one leg or arm. Symptoms of pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lung) include shortness of breath and sharp chest pain that's worse when you cough or take a deep breath.

How are blood clots during pregnancy treated?

Blood clots in deep veins are most often treated with a blood thinner (anticoagulant). It can stop the clot from growing and prevent it from breaking and moving to the lungs. It can also prevent new clots from forming. Your doctor may also suggest things you can do to relieve some of your symptoms.

How are blood clots diagnosed during pregnancy?

Your doctor will do a physical exam and ask questions about your past health. You may need certain tests, such as an ultrasound, an EKG (electrocardiogram), or a CT scan. You may also need blood tests.

How can you care for yourself when you have blood clots during pregnancy?

Your doctor may have you wear compression stockings. And you may be told to walk several times a day (if you can). If you have limited mobility, try to move your legs or change position as best you can every hour to keep blood moving. If you're given medicine, take it exactly as prescribed.

What increases your risk for blood clots during pregnancy?

Changes in hormones and blood flow during pregnancy and after delivery increase the risk of blood clots. Other things that increase your risk include:

  • Having limited mobility.
  • Having a cesarean section or other recent surgery.
  • Having certain blood problems that make blood clot too easily.
  • Having a history of blood clots.
  • Smoking.
  • Being overweight.

Problems from blood clots during or after pregnancy are more common and more likely to cause death in people who are Black, American Indian, or Alaska Native. There is no simple reason why. Less access to good health care and differences in how patients are listened to and treated are part of it. Other health, economic, and social issues, including racism, also increase the risk for these groups. If you're a member of one of these groups, share your concerns with your doctor and talk about what you both can do to avoid problems.

What is a blood clot during pregnancy?

A blood clot is a clump of blood that forms in a blood vessel. Sometimes clots happen in deep veins. This is called deep vein thrombosis. It needs medical care right away. If a clot in a deep vein breaks apart, pieces of it can travel to the lungs. A blood clot in the lung is called a pulmonary embolism.

There's a higher risk for clots during pregnancy and after delivery. That's because of changes in hormones and blood flow. Having limited mobility also increases the risk.

Blood clots and pregnancy: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have symptoms of a blood clot in your lung (called a pulmonary embolism). These may include:
    • Sudden chest pain.
    • Trouble breathing.
    • Coughing up blood.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have symptoms of a blood clot in your arm or leg (called a deep vein thrombosis). These may include:
    • Swelling in one arm or leg (but not in the other) or in the groin.
    • Pain in the arm, calf, back of the knee, thigh, or groin.
    • A color change on the skin of the arm, leg, or groin. The skin may be reddish or purplish, depending on your usual skin color.

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