Pregnancy and Pulmonary Embolism: What You Need to Know

Pregnancy and Pulmonary Embolism: What You Need to KnowComplications during labor and delivery can arise at any time, affecting both the mother and the baby. One of the most serious complications that may occur is a pulmonary embolism, which can cause life-long problems or even death.

It is usually the medical provider’s responsibility to detect, diagnose, and treat pulmonary embolisms as quickly as possible. If your doctor fails to take the appropriate measures to do so, you may be eligible to pursue a medical malpractice claim.

What is a pulmonary embolism?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pulmonary embolisms emerge from blood clots. When a blood clot goes untreated, it can make its way to the lungs and cause a blockage. While anyone can experience blood clots at any time, women have an increased chance of developing blood clots during pregnancy, labor, and delivery. The risk of pulmonary embolism does not decrease until several months after giving birth.

Why pregnant women are more likely to develop blood clots

A pregnant woman’s body goes through many changes during pregnancy. One of these changes is the way that the body produces blood, placing pregnant women at risk of blood clots. For example, the body may try to prepare for blood loss during delivery by forming clots more easily.

However, the baby can also apply pressure to blood vessels in certain spots, like the pelvic area, restricting blood flow to the legs and leading to a blood clot. In addition, if an expectant or recent mother is placed on bedrest or does not stay active, the lack of blood flow can result in blood clots.

What are the warning signs of a pulmonary embolism?

Warning signs a doctor should know about during or after your pregnancy include:

  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Passing out
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain in the chest, especially when breathing
  • Racing or irregular heartbeat
  • Increased sweating
  • Low blood pressure
  • Coughing up blood
  • Pain, swelling, or discoloration in legs
  • Increased anxiety
  • Painful and recurring headaches
  • Vision problems
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting blood
  • Numbness or paralysis in arms or legs
  • Confusion
  • Memory loss

Are there certain factors that increase a pregnant woman’s risk of pulmonary embolism?

By knowing what factors may cause a pulmonary embolism, you can create a plan with your doctor to protect yourself throughout and after pregnancy. Risk factors for pulmonary embolism include:

  1. Family history of blood clots or pulmonary embolism
  2. Genetic conditions that can cause blood clots
  3. Obesity
  4. An injury or surgery, especially affecting the legs
  5. Age
  6. Bed rest, lack of exercise, paralysis, or remaining in one position for an extended period
  7. Cancer diagnosis
  8. Certain medications
  9. Smoking

A cesarean section (c-section) is also a risk factor for new mothers. If you recently had a c-section, it is crucial your doctor is informed of any new issues that arise during recovery. If you think you may be at higher risk of a pulmonary embolism, let your doctor know early on to ensure you receive the best level of care going forward.

How is a pulmonary embolism discovered?

It can be challenging for medical providers to identify pulmonary embolisms because the signs and symptoms are like several other medical conditions. Your doctor will need to thoroughly assess your symptoms and order the necessary tests to diagnose this condition. Tests to detect a pulmonary embolism include:

  • Blood tests
  • Physical exam
  • X-rays
  • MRI scans
  • CT or CAT scans
  • Ventilation-perfusion scans
  • Duplex ultrasound
  • Electrocardiogram

How might a doctor treat a pulmonary embolism?

For pregnant women at risk of pulmonary embolisms, the goal is to prevent blood clots. This usually requires implementing healthy habits into daily life, like exercising regularly, moderating weight gain, a good diet, taking the necessary medications and vitamins, and avoiding alcohol and nicotine. If one occurs, certain procedures can treat pulmonary embolism:

  • Fibrinolytic therapy: This therapy requires patients to take medications through an IV that will help break down a blood clot.
  • Pulmonary embolectomy: A pulmonary embolectomy is a surgery performed to remove a pulmonary embolism. It is typically used as a last resort if a patient is not responding to medications or other treatments.
  • Anticoagulants: Anticoagulants are blood thinning medications that keep clots from growing and prevent new clots from developing.
  • Percutaneous thrombectomy: This treatment directs a catheter to the embolism through the blood vessels. The catheter breaks up, dissolves, or removes the embolism.

When is pulmonary embolism treatment medical malpractice?

Every doctor goes through several years of training to treat patients properly. Doctors who specialize in reproductive health (OBGYNs) should be aware of all possible complications, such as blood clots and pulmonary embolisms, which may emerge throughout the pregnancy. This includes labor, delivery, and after the baby arrives.

Medical malpractice may occur when a healthcare provider fails to monitor, diagnose, or treat a blood clot, especially when they know that the patient is at higher risk of developing clots. As mentioned above, there are many different options used to treat blood clots and pulmonary embolisms. If a doctor ignores a pregnant patient’s questions and concerns, fails to order the necessary diagnostic tests, fails to provide the proper medications, or fails to use the proper treatment options to treat the blood clot or embolism, the patient may be eligible to pursue a medical malpractice claim.

Doctors are also aware that c-sections can cause blood clots to form. When a patient receives a c-section, they must be monitored carefully during and after. If the doctor e suspects a blood clot, they should order testing right away to determine where it is located and how it should be treated. Choosing to delay or do nothing can create a devastating situation for the patient and her family.

How long do I have to pursue a medical malpractice claim for a pulmonary embolism?

In Washington, DC, the statute of limitations gives new or expecting mothers up to three years from the date that the embolism was discovered or symptoms occurred to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. If you suffered harm during or after your pregnancy due to a pulmonary embolism, it’s difficult to know what to do next. An attorney knowledgeable in pulmonary embolisms can help you understand your options and develop a plan for recovery.

Please contact Paulson & Nace, PLLC through this contact form or by calling our office.