A Pain in the Leg
When Therese McFadden, of Lansdale, Pennsylvania, was six weeks pregnant with her third child, she tried to go running but was stopped in her tracks by a heavy, tight feeling in her left leg. "It felt like the hugest charley horse," she recalls. Her obstetrician advised her to go to the emergency room, where an ultrasound revealed a blood clot.
Pregnancy puts a woman at six times greater risk for blood clots in the deep veins of the legs, called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Hormonal changes make your blood more likely to clot, says Dr. Dizon-Townson, while the pressure of the growing uterus on your veins can impede circulation, causing blood to pool in your legs and feet.
DVT might be difficult to distinguish from the ordinary leg cramps of pregnancy. But dependable red flags are that the symptoms occur in just one leg and the area is red, painfully swollen, and warm to the touch.
Unfortunately, DVT can also be silent. In such cases, the first "symptom" may be pulmonary embolism, when a piece of the clot breaks away and travels to the lung. If you experience shortness of breath, chest pain, or a rapid heart rate, call your doctor or 911. McFadden was promptly admitted to the hospital, where she received the blood-thinning drug heparin to dissolve her clot. She was sent home with Lovenox, a self-injectable form of heparin, to prevent additional clots.
Women who are older, overweight, or genetically predisposed to clotting are at higher risk for DVT, as are those put on bed rest. If you're ordered off your feet for another pregnancy complication, your doctor may recommend you take heparin or wear special compression stockings to promote circulation, says Dr. Dizon-Townson.
For women who are otherwise healthy, staying active and well-hydrated may help to prevent clots, she adds. It's also important to get on your feet in the hours and days after delivery, when DVT risk remains high.