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CMAJ. 2010 Apr 20;182(7):657-60. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.091692. Epub 2010 Mar 29.

Anatomic distribution of deep vein thrombosis in pregnancy.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ont.



Prospective studies of nonpregnant patients have demonstrated that most deep vein thromboses of the lower extremity originate in the calf veins and progress proximally, but the anatomic distribution of thromboses in pregnant patients is unclear. An understanding of the anatomic distribution of deep vein thrombosis in pregnancy has important implications for optimizing diagnostic imaging protocols. We undertook this study to determine the anatomic distribution of deep vein thrombosis of the lower extremity in symptomatic pregnant patients.


We systematically searched MEDLINE (1966 to January 2009), Embase (1980 to January 2009) and the Cochrane Library using prespecified criteria to identify articles providing objective diagnostic and anatomic information for unselected or consecutive symptomatic pregnant patients with deep vein thrombosis.


Six articles from an initial list of 1098 titles met the inclusion criteria. These articles provided information for 124 pregnant women with a diagnosis of deep vein thrombosis. Overall, involvement of the left leg was reported in 84 (88%) of the 96 patients for which the side affected was known, and 87 (71%) of 122 thromboses were restricted to the proximal veins without involvement of the calf veins. Among these cases of proximal deep vein thrombosis, 64% (56/87) were restricted to the iliac and/or femoral vein.


Despite a paucity of studies in this area, the results of our review suggest that the anatomic distribution of deep vein thrombosis in pregnant women differs from that for nonpregnant patients. In addition to what was previously known--that left-sided deep vein thrombosis is more common in pregnancy--we also found that proximal deep vein thrombosis restricted to the femoral or iliac veins is also more common (> 60% of cases). If confirmed by larger studies, these findings could affect our understanding of the pathophysiology and derivation of diagnostic algorithms for examination of pregnant women with suspected deep vein thrombosis.

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