As March is Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) Awareness Month, now is the perfect time to learn more about this common and potentially life-threatening condition; and, most importantly, how to prevent it from impacting your life during and after your pregnancy.

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is one of the most common types of blood clots that women suffer from and it typically occurs in the legs, with clotting in the veins running through the calf and thigh muscles.  If left untreated the effects can be deadly.

Eddie Chaloner, a London based vascular surgeon, explains why DVT Awareness Month is so important, especially for pregnant women! The campaign is focused on promoting the essential information all women should know about the risks of blood clots, how to spot the symptoms and how to treat the condition or ideally prevent it from developing in the first place. This year, the campaign has been split into five separate themes, each providing all the information necessary to fully understand the risks. Topics include information about groups who may be at higher risk, personal testimonies on how to manage the condition on a day to day basis as well as everything you need to know about staying healthy and avoiding DVT.

How do you know if you have deep vein thrombosis (DVT)?

Sometimes DVT can be symptomless, but usually you will experience some of the more common symptoms including a pain or ache in your legs as well as increased tenderness or swelling. In some cases you may see a reddening of the skin, usually around the calf area. 

The most serious effect of blood clots such as DVT is that these can lead to further complications such as the development of pulmonary embolism, which occurs when a section of the blood clot travels in the bloodstream and blocks the blood vessels in the lungs. If a pulmonary embolism is caused as a result of DVT then it is known as venous thromboembolism (VTE). This condition will affect around 10% of sufferers of DVT if the clot is left untreated. Pulmonary embolism can cause chest pains, difficulty breathing and in the most severe cases can lead to heart failure and fatalities.

There can also be a longer-term impact of failing to effectively treat DVT, with between 20-40% of DVT sufferers developing post-thrombotic syndrome which is an increase in pressure in the veins as a result of diverted blood flow from the veins affected by the blood clot. Common symptoms of post-thrombotic syndrome include calf pain, swelling or rashes and even ulcers in severe cases. Some symptoms can indicate whether you are at increased risk of developing post-thrombotic syndrome including:

  • If the initial clotting occurs in your thigh
  • If you are overweight
  • If you have suffered from more than one blood clot in the past.

Are pregnant women more likely to suffer from DVT?

As the rate of blood clotting increases during pregnancy; pregnant women can be at a significantly higher risk of suffering from DVT. With some studies showing that pregnant women are up to ten times more likely to develop the condition, DVT Awareness Month is playing a vital role in raising awareness among women who may be at greater risk. Clotting can be a serious issue for women throughout their pregnancy and even six months after giving birth.

You could be more susceptible to developing the condition during pregnancy if you already have thrombophilia, where the blood clots at a faster rate, or you have a close family member who has had a thrombosis in the past. There are also other risk factors which women should be aware of to ensure that they are prepared for the signs of a potential blood clot including being pregnant over the age of 35 or expecting twin or triplets. In addition, women who are obese or already suffer from varicose veins should be aware that they are at a higher risk of developing DVT. 

If you do develop DVT whilst pregnant there are several treatments available that a medical professional can advise you on. One of the most common treatments is the prescription of anticoagulation medicines which makes it more difficult for blood clots to form and prevent the condition from worsening.  Heparin is the most popular anticoagulant for pregnant women, particularly low molecular weight heparin (LMWH) which does not require a hospital stay and has no effect on your baby. There are side effects including an increase in bleeding but these are less severe than the standard treatment. If you start this treatment during your pregnancy you will need to continue the course until at least six weeks after you have given birth.

Increased exercise can be hugely beneficial and can prevent the symptoms of DVT from worsening or returning, while even something as simple as keeping your leg raised while resting can help. This assists in the blood flow and prevents blood pooling in the calf which can lead to the development of DVT.

DVT Awareness Month has long been incredibly successful at raising awareness of this serious condition and ensuring that pregnant women especially have all the information they need to stay healthy during and after pregnancy.