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Blood Clots and DVT

Superficial venous changes -- like the threadlike purple or red lines you might see developing just beneath your skin during pregnancy -- aren't serious. Most fade away after childbirth, or you can have them safely removed by a dermatologist. You may also notice varicose veins at this point in your pregnancy. These are the result of extra blood pooling in your veins, usually in your legs. Although they can be unsightly and uncomfortable, you usually won't have to treat them with anything other than added rest, putting your feet up, and wearing support stockings.

However, occasionally venous changes can pose a problem during pregnancy. Pregnant women are seven times more likely to develop blood clots in the deeper veins, a condition known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Perhaps the most serious consequence of untreated DVT is a pulmonary embolism, caused when a bit of the blood clot breaks off and makes its way into your lungs.

Your blood usually clots for a good reason: to stop bleeding and help your body heal after an injury. DVT occurs when your body signals the clotting process to begin at the wrong time or in the wrong place. Most people who get these blood clots are older; however, pregnant women are at risk for them because uterine pressure slows down their circulation and pregnant women's blood has more factors circulating in it that cause clotting. In addition, you might not be as mobile as you were before you were pregnant, and immobility is another risk factor for DVT. You may also be more at risk for DVT if your family members had blood clots, if you're obese, if you have a serious infection, or if you have had a traumatic accident or a cesarean delivery.

Fortunately, the symptoms of DVT are pretty obvious. Your leg or groin area will be cool and pale, but the area where the blood clot forms will swell and become red and hot. It may be painful to walk, and it might hurt if you flex your toes toward your knee. Call your practitioner immediately if you have these symptoms so that you can have a diagnostic ultrasound and get treatment. Treatment usually includes hospitalization and heparin, a pregnancy-safe medication that thins your blood. You'll most likely keep taking this blood thinner throughout your pregnancy and for a period of time after the baby is born.

Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.

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