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Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)

Dangerous blood clots can be a complication of pregnancy

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a life-threatening condition that occurs when a deep vein is blocked by a blood clot. DVT typically appears in the leg, usually in the calf, but has been known to materialize in other parts of the body.

DVT is often difficult to detect. You may not have any symptoms or you may feel pain, unusual and sudden swelling, tenderness, cramping or aching.

DVT can lead to two serious complications:

  • If left untreated, DVT can lead to a pulmonary embolism (PE), which can be fatal. PE occurs when a blood clot travels through the veins and blocks a major blood vessel in the lungs.
  • DVT can cause injury and scarring to the one-way valves in leg veins and lead to poor circulation, called post-thrombotic syndrome.

Pregnant women are more susceptible to deep vein thrombosis than non-pregnant women. Pregnancy causes hormonal changes that increase blood clotting. In addition, the expanding uterus puts pressure on your blood vessels, restricting blood flow from the legs and pelvis and back to the heart. Slower blood flow increases the risk of DVT.

The development of blood clots in a previous pregnancy increases the chance of DVT in a future pregnancy. Inherited blood clotting difficulties also increase the chances of DVT in pregnant women.

While pregnant women are at increased risk of DVT, the end of a pregnancy does not immediately reduce the risk. In fact, the period after pregnancy has an even higher risk of DVT than the pregnancy itself – until the woman's hormonal levels return to their prepregnancy state.

Talk to your Novant Health doctor if you have a concern about DVT.