Blood clots are a leading cause of pregnancy-related death in the United States, and pregnant women face up to a five-fold increased risk for a blood clot compared to women who are not pregnant. After delivery, this risk for a blood clot is highest during the first six weeks, and remains high through the first three months, according to the National Blood Clot Alliance (NBCA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). To help inform pregnant women and new moms with potentially life-saving information, NBCA and CDC are launching new content for the Stop the Clot, Spread the Word public health education campaign aimed at preventing blood clots during pregnancy and after delivery.
Dangerous blood clots develop in the deep veins of the body, usually in the legs (called deep vein thrombosis or DVT), and can travel to the lungs (called pulmonary embolism or PE). Blood clots in the lungs account for nine percent of all deaths among pregnant women in the United States.
“It’s crucial that pregnant women understand that blood clots are a real risk during pregnancy, delivery, and for up to three months after delivery,” explains Anne Schuchat, MD (RADM, USPHS), Principal Deputy Director of CDC. “CDC hopes that these educational resources will protect the health of pregnant women and their babies and save lives.”
The Stop the Clot, Spread the Word™ campaign is made possible through funding from CDC to NBCA. The newly unveiled Stop the Clot, Spread the Word™ resources for pregnant women provide information to help women talk with their healthcare provider about their risks. Women can learn whether they would benefit from a prevention plan to manage these risks for developing a blood clot.
“Normal pregnancy is associated with major changes in blood clotting that aim to prevent potential blood loss during childbirth,” explains Andra James, MD, MPH, a specialist in high-risk pregnancies, and Consulting Professor in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Duke University. “Other factors, such as prolonged immobility, obesity, surgery (such as cesarean delivery), and injury to veins during childbirth, can increase the risk of blood clot formation.
“There are safe and effective methods to help women prevent and, if needed, get treated for blood clots during and just after pregnancy,” Dr. James explains. “When pregnant women take care of themselves during pregnancy they are also taking care of the developing baby.”
Dr. James stresses the importance of recognizing the signs and symptoms of blood clots in the legs — which include pain, swelling, tenderness, and redness or discoloration of the skin — and the signs and symptoms of blood clots in the lung — which include shortness of breath, sharp chest pain that worsens with a deep breath, and coughing up blood. If a woman experiences any of the signs or symptoms of a blood clot in the legs she should alert her doctor as soon as possible. If a woman experiences any of the signs or symptoms of a blood clot in the lungs she should seek immediate medical attention.
This campaign is part of a five-year awareness campaign that started in 2014, in response to a CDC Funding Opportunity Announcement. The purpose is to educate the public about blood clot risks, signs, and symptoms, and is geared toward individuals at increased risk for DVT/PE. The resources provided by this campaign include patient education materials that address the information needs of the general public as well as those of hospitalized patients, women who are pregnant, and in the near future, people affected by cancer.
“As the leading patient advocacy organization representing people affected by blood clots and clotting disorders nationwide, NBCA is focused on meeting the information needs of many diverse individuals,” says NBCA’s CEO Randy Fenninger, a survivor of blood clots in both lungs. “We’re proud of the many educational resources stemming from our Stop the Clot, Spread the Word™ effort, and it’s very rewarding to carry out our important mission in partnership with our colleagues at CDC.”
NBCA is a nonprofit, voluntary health organization dedicated to advancing the prevention, early diagnosis, and successful treatment of life-threatening blood clots, such as deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, and clot-provoked stroke. NBCA accomplishes its mission through programs that build public awareness, educate patients and healthcare professionals, and promote supportive public and private sector policy.
This campaign is focused on delivering messages about blood clot risks, and heightening public awareness to the fact that blood clots can affect anyone. Similarly, because blood clots may be treated safely, this campaign also underscores the importance of recognizing blood clot symptoms.