Thrombosis Events in Postpartum

As rehabilitation providers move towards primary care for musculoskeletal dysfunction, the privileges bring responsibilities. Regardless of our level of training and degree attainment, screening for underlying medical conditions is at the forefront of our work at all times. During the postpartum period, it is understandable that a new mother may report fatigue, aches and pains, as she tends first to the needs of her newborn. Many pelvic rehabilitation providers love working with new mothers because we have such a powerful opportunity to serve, support, educate, and nurture our patients.

One important health risk to keep in mind in the postpartum period is blood clots, or thrombosis. Changes in a woman's physiology during the peripartum period alter her risk factors for experiencing blood clots, a topic that is discussed in our pregnancy and postpartum courses. A deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, often occurs in the calf area, but the upper extremity can also develop clots. While local injury can result from a DVT, a major risk of a DVT is the progression to a pulmonary embolism, when a blood clot travels through the blood stream to the lungs- this is a life threatening condition. An article in the New England Journal of Medicine reports that the most significant risk period is within the 6 weeks postpartum. Let's get to the heart of this issue: how do we screen for a DVT or pulmonary embolism?

According to the Mayo clinic, in about 50% of cases of DVT, symptoms are not noticeable. When they are, they include:


  • Swelling in the affected limb
  • Pain in the leg, like a charley horse
  • Warmth over affected area
  • Changes in skin color (blue, pale, or red)

Warning signs of a pulmonary embolism:

  • Sudden shortness of breath
  • Chest discomfort that increases with deep inspiration
  • Faintness, lightheadedness, dizziness
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Coughing up blood
  • Anxiety or nervousness

If a patient is screened for the above, and you suspect a DVT, what should you do? If the first thought that comes to mind is the clinical test known as "Homans's Sign," unfortunately, that is not a current response. The best thing to do is to contact an appropriate provider (perhaps the referring provider, primary care provider, emergency room provider, etc) and report on the findings of Wells criteria. Providers can base further diagnostic testing upon this clinical prediction rule for DVT screening. To read an article about application of Wells criteria in the clinical setting, click here. If you google "Wells criteria" you will also find many reliable sites that calculate the test for you.

If you are already working with women in peripartum periods, please join us in our Peripartum Course Series! The next opportunity to take Care of the Pregnant Patient is April in Illinois and Care of the Postpartum Patient happens at the end of this month in California!

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