Blood Clots and Pregnancy, What Are The Risks

A cluster of red blood cells to symbolize how blood clots can form.

Pregnant women are about 5 times more likely to develop blood clots than non-pregnant women.

What is a blood clot?

A blood clot is a clump of blood that forms when blood changes from liquid to solid. When blood clots form in the veins, it’s called venous thromboembolism, and it’s a very serious health issue. It first manifests as deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which are clots that primarily occur in the legs, thighs and pelvis. When the clot (or part of it) dislodges and travels to the blood vessels of the lungs, it causes a blockage known as pulmonary embolism (PE), which could be fatal if it stops blood from reaching the lungs.

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Your Risk For Blood Clots As a Pregnant Woman

Pregnant women are more likely to develop blood clots than non-pregnant women because:

  1. They experience hormonal changes. During pregnancy, the body increases clotting activity as a way to lessen blood loss during labor.
  2. During pregnancy there is reduced blood flow to the legs as a result of the fetus’ weight pressing down on veins.

Pregnant women are at highest risk of blood clots during their first trimester and first 6 weeks after delivery. Blood clots can cause pre-eclampsia, miscarriage, placental insufficiency, premature birth and in rare cases, heart attack and stroke.

Pregnant women are at highest risk of blood clots during their first trimester and first 6 weeks after delivery.

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Are all pregnant women at risk?

Yes, however there are many factors that can increase your likelihood of developing blood clots. They are:

  1. Being over the age of 35 (or advanced maternal age)
  2. Being overweight or obese
  3. Having had blood clots in the past or a family history of it
  4. Having a complicated birth or an operative delivery like a caesarean section
  5. Inherited thrombophilia, a condition that makes blood clots more likely
  6. Smoking, and pre-existing heart disease
  7. Having a premature or still birth
  8. Heavy bleeding after birth
  9. Traveling long distances
  10. Living a sedentary lifestyle

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How do I Know if I Have Blood Clots?

The symptoms for Deep Vein Thrombosis and Pulmonary Embolism are different.

Deep Vein Thrombosis symptoms include swelling, pain and redness in the legs, larger looking veins and skin that feels warmer where the clot is. These symptoms usually, but not always, appear in one leg.

The symptoms for Pulmonary Embolism are difficulty breathing, chest pain or constriction, irregular heartbeat, frequent coughing accompanied by blood, feeling seriously unwell and collapsing.

How can I prevent blood clots?

  1. Remain active and maintain a healthy weight
  2. Wear compression stockings and use anticoagulant medication prescribed by your doctor
  3. Wear loose fitting clothes
  4. When traveling for a long period of time, get up every 2-3 hours and move around. Also, drink a lot of water to prevent dehydration
  5. Stop smoking
  6. Go for frequent prenatal check-ups and follow your doctor’s recommendations based on your individual risks

When diagnosed, DVT is usually treated with anticoagulants and compression stockings to relieve pain and swelling. Pulmonary embolism, on the other hand, requires immediate medical attention once the symptoms are experienced. In very rare and severe cases, drugs called thrombolytics are used to dissolve the blood clots.

Can I do Cord Blood Banking if I have blood clots?

Blood clotting can affect the collection of cord blood. If medical staff wait too long to clamp and cut the umbilical cord, the blood in it starts to clot, making collection harder and resulting in reduced amounts of cord blood that may not be useful for storage.