What Women Need to Know About Blood Clots

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pregnancyWhile blood clots can occur at any age and in both men and women, they are more likely to occur in men over the age of 50 and more likely to occur in women under the age of 50, or generally what is considered to be the child-bearing years. While men and women share many potential risk factors such as heredity, obesity, diet, and activity level, there are two contributing factors that are exclusive to women: pregnancy and birth control.

During pregnancy, women become 6 times more likely to develop life-threatening blood clots in their deep veins, leading to a serious condition called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). DVT can then lead to an even more serious condition called a pulmonary embolism, which occurs when a blood clot breaks off and becomes trapped in the lungs, preventing the healthy flow of blood and oxygen throughout the body. Blood clots in pregnant women typically occur in the veins of their legs, especially as the added pressure of their baby weighs down on their lower extremities.

Blood clots do not strictly effect the pregnant mom in all cases, and they can also be very dangerous to the unborn baby as well, depending on where the clot develops. When a blood clot forms inside of the placenta, it can cut off blood flow and oxygen to the baby and put them at serious risk. Fortunately, most women who develop blood clots during pregnancy are able to address and treat them with their doctors and go on to give birth to perfectly healthy babies.

Because birth control pills work by tricking a woman’s body into thinking it’s already pregnant, they can effect a women’s body in much the same way as if she was actually pregnant. This is because birth control pills usually require the presence of the same hormones that are produced in a woman’s body during pregnancy, the same hormones that are believed to be the major culprits in causing blood clots. These hormones are estrogen and progestin, and their presence in birth control pills can increase a woman’s chance of developing blood clots by 3 or 4 times.

The combination of these two hormones in late pregnancy and in birth control pills can be deadly if not monitored. Estrogen aids in the formation of blood clots by increasing platelet numbers as well as the overall stickiness of these platelets, allowing clots to form more easily. At the same time, progestin causes the blood vessels to widen and relax, allowing blood to pool more easily within the veins. Combine wider and looser veins with an increased number of sticky platelets, and you can see how the presence of these two hormones can have some very adverse effects on women’s health.

Certain other factors can also increase the risk of DVT in pregnant women and in women taking birth control, such as being overweight, smoking cigarettes, being over the age of 35, and having a history of previous blood clots or blood clots outside of pregnancy. While most women experience completely normal and healthy pregnancies and experiences on birth control, one should always be aware of the risks involved and report any symptoms to their physician immediately.

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