Bringing new life into the world is a delicate process that requires a level of caution to avert pregnancy-related conditions that can risk the lives of expectant mothers and their unborn babies.
Nigeria has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, accounting for nearly 20 percent of all global maternal deaths. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the risk of dying during pregnancy, childbirth, or postpartum for a Nigerian woman is one in 22, compared to one in 4,900 in developed countries.
Blood clotting also referred to as venous thromboembolism, or VTE is one of the leading causes of such risk factors.
“Expectant women are at risk of experiencing blood clots during the pregnancy, at childbirth, or up to three months after delivering their baby,” Helen Okoye, a medical expert and spokesperson for the World Thrombosis Day (WTD) campaign said in an official statement made available to BusinessDay
“And, while anyone can develop blood clots, they should be aware of the risks associated with this condition during pregnancy.”
Why pregnancy poses higher risk
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pregnant women are five times more likely to experience blood clots compared to women who are not pregnant. There are various reasons for this. During pregnancy, a woman’s estrogen levels are higher than normal, which increases the chance of developing a clot, and a pregnant woman’s blood contains higher levels of clotting proteins and lower levels of anti-clotting proteins
– which is the body’s way of safeguarding against too much blood loss during childbirth.
Other clotting risk factors include the fact that blood vessels around the pelvis area are pressed upon by the growing baby, resulting in less blood flowing to the legs. This is a common phenomenon at the midpoint of pregnancy, Okoye said.
“Another key issue is a restricted movement towards the end of the pregnancy, or if the mother has to undergo bed rest after delivery, especially if she has had a C-section. A C-section is a surgery that could cause some damage to blood vessels, thereby increasing the risk of a blood clot,” she explained.
Know your medical history
If a pregnant woman has a personal or family history of blood clots or a blood clotting disorder, or any long-term medical condition such as hypertension, lupus, sickle cell disease, diabetes, or lung and heart-related ailments, she must highlight it to her doctor or midwife at the onset of the pregnancy, cautions Okoye.
“Expectant women and new moms should do regular visits to their antenatal and postnatal clinic and be as open as possible with their obstetrician or gynecologist or midwife up until a few weeks after delivery. Raise any medical concerns – this way, the medical team will be able to address possible threats and reduce the risk of clotting. This is especially relevant for first-time moms, who may not know what to look out for.”
Be aware of these signs
The WTD campaign highlights the following warning signs:
A blood clot that forms in a deep vein, usually the leg, groin, or arm, is called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Signs to look out for include pain or tenderness, often starting in the calf, swelling on the ankle or thigh or the affected limb, redness or noticeable discoloration, and warmth around the affected area.
If part of that clot breaks free and travels to the lungs, it can block blood supply and cause a pulmonary embolism (PE), which may be fatal. Signs of a PE include unexplained shortness of breath, rapid breathing, chest pain, rapid heart rate, and light-headedness or passing out.
If a diagnosis is made, make sure you adhere to the recommendations and medications prescribed by the doctors to keep the situation under control.
Peace at mind
A mother-to-be is advised to ensure that she has a safe and healthy pregnancy, delivery, and recovery period. Throughout this time, don’t be afraid to raise things that are bothering you, with your doctor. Before you go to a medical appointment, write down a list of any concerns that you have, and take the list with you.
“It’s easy to get so caught up in what is going on during a medical check-up that you could forget to address pertinent issues,” says Okoye. “Don’t be afraid to speak up about things that are bothering you. Even if it seems like a small issue, it’s important that you have peace of mind, and stay safe, during your pregnancy,” she concludes.