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Serena Williams

What is a postpartum pulmonary embolism?

Serena Williams11

March 12, 2019

Reviewed by Kimberly Langdon M.D.

Thanks to Serena Williams sharing her shocking near-death experience after giving birth, a spotlight is starting to shine on the rising maternal mortality in the US and the top causes of maternal death, including pulmonary embolisms like hers. So what is a pulmonary embolism? It’s when there’s a blood clot in the lungs that arises from the calves or pelvic blood vessels and travels to the lung. Scary, right? No wonder it’s the leading cause of maternal death in the UK & Norway, and one of the top causes in the US and Australia.

You might be wondering how pulmonary embolisms are related to pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period. It turns out that pregnancy and postpartum are times of hypercoagulability, which means that there’s a higher chance of blood clots occurring. Surgery is also a well-established risk factor for developing blood clots, so a c-section is a double whammy. The risk stays elevated for 4-6 weeks after delivery, so you’re not free and clear once you’re at home.

If you’re a new mom or mom-to-be, or you have a close friend or family member that is, check out the symptoms and risk factors here. If you have any concerns, call your doctor right away. And while it is a serious and life-threatening condition, treatments are effective and so are preventative measures. But the first step is recognizing when something isn’t right, trusting yourself, and getting help.


Morris, J. M., Algert, C. S. and Roberts, C. L. (2010), Incidence and risk factors for pulmonary embolism in the postpartum period. Journal of Thrombosis and Haemostasis, 8: 998-1003. doi:10.1111/j.1538-7836.2010.03794.x Retrieved from

Mayo Clinic. Pulmonary embolism. Retrieved March 11, 2019 from

Kimberly Langdon M.D. is a retired University-trained obstetrician/gynecologist with 19-years of clinical experience. She graduated from The Ohio State University College of Medicine and then completed her OB/GYN residency program at The Ohio State University Medical Center. Recently, she founded a medical device start-up company that focuses on non-drug treatment for common maladies.

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