Pulmonary embolism is a rare pregnancy complication that affects approximately 1 in 7,000 pregnant women.1 This condition occurs when a blood clot gets caught in an artery in the lungs. Pregnant women are at more risk of developing Pulmonary Embolism because they are up to five times more likely to develop blood clots than people who are not pregnant. During pregnancy, the body generally increases the production of blood factors that promote normal clotting. Besides, the growing uterus also impedes the return of blood in veins in the lower part of the body, thereby resulting in superficial problems like varicose veins.
At times, increases in blood clotting factors with a simultaneous decreased flow of blood in the veins from the expanding uterus can result in blood clots in the legs. When a clot finally breaks free and travel to the lungs, it becomes a medical emergency called Pulmonary Embolism.
Pulmonary Embolism typically occurs in the third trimester of pregnancy, during or shortly after labor and delivery. It could easily result in the death of the mother if prompt medical interventions are not made. This condition has been reported to be a leading cause of maternal deaths in developed countries.
Pulmonary Embolism does not always cause symptoms, some of its common symptoms include:
• Shortness of breath;
• A cough that may include blood sputum;
• Increased heart rate;
• Lightheadedness, dizziness and possibly fainting;
• Unexplained anxiety;
• And leg swellings that are more noticeable in one leg.
Having any of these symptoms doesn’t necessarily translate to having Pulmonary Embolism because these symptoms are also some of the signs of other conditions, such as flu. It is therefore of the utmost importance to see your doctor with these symptoms so that a proper diagnosis can be made in time.
Some women are at greater risk of developing Pulmonary Embolism than others. For instance, women with a history of blood clots and varicose veins or deep vein thrombosis are at a greater risk of developing the condition. Also, women who gain a lot of weight during pregnancy or at the time of delivery are also at a greater risk of developing Pulmonary Embolism. In addition, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is another risk factor for Pulmonary Embolism. Finally, women carrying multiple babies like twins and triplets also have a greater risk of developing the condition.
Pulmonary Embolism can be treated. Most pregnant women with the condition are being administered with blood thinners to reduce the blood’s ability to clot. Meanwhile, in emergency situations, thrombolytics are given to break up blood clots.
If you are experiencing symptoms of Pulmonary Embolism, do speak to your doctor as soon as possible for immediate medical care.
1) Pulmonary embolism in pregnancy: Know the symptoms, risks of blood clot. UTSouthwestern Medical Center website. https://utswmed.org/medblog/pulmonary-embolism-pregnancy/. Last accessed April 22, 2021