80% of pregnancy-related deaths in the United States are preventable
- According to a new CDC report, four out of five deaths that occur during pregnancy or within a year of childbirth could have been prevented.
- The United States has one of the highest maternal mortality rates among high-income countries.
- More than half of the deaths occurred up to a year after childbirth.
The vast majority of pregnancy-related deaths in the United States are preventable, according to a new report from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Four out of five deaths occurring during pregnancy or in the year following childbirth could have been avoided if measures had been taken to improve and expand access to health care.
The United States has one of the highest maternal mortality rates among high-income countries, and the number of maternal deaths has increased dramatically during the pandemic, especially among black and Indigenous people.
Dr. Amy Roskin, board-certified OB/GYN and chief medical officer of Seven Starling, a perinatal mental health platform, says the results are shocking and show there is a clear need for those responsible for health are making structural changes in the way health care is delivered in order to prevent these deaths.
“It shows all the work we need to do to prevent these deaths. The CDC report underscores the need for systemic change in how we manage care before, during, and after pregnancy,” Roskin told Healthline.
Researchers assessed health data from 1,018 pregnancy-related deaths that occurred in 36 states between 2017 and 2019.
A preventable cause was identified in 839, or 84%, of the deaths. More than half of the deaths occurred up to a year after childbirth.
The most common causes of death were mental health issues (including suicide and substance abuse). Hemorrhages, heart problems, infections and thrombotic embolisms were also largely responsible for the deaths.
The leading causes of death vary by race and ethnicity, according to the report.
Heart and coronary heart disease were the leading causes of death among blacks, mental health problems were the leading causes of death among Hispanics and whites, and hemorrhage was the leading cause of death among Asians.
Due to the small population size, the leading cause of death has not been identified among Native Americans or Alaska Natives. Another one
The researchers say their findings highlight the need to develop healthcare initiatives to ensure that all pregnant and postpartum patients receive the care they need. The findings should also help future research uncover ways to address these racial disparities and improve health outcomes for all, Roskin said.
“One of the key takeaways is the critical importance of screening, diagnosis, and treatment for perinatal mental health issues,” Roskin said.
Researchers say it’s crucial that healthcare professionals raise awareness that pregnancy-related deaths can occur months after delivery.
Providers should also be sure to ask all their patients if they have recently given birth to better screen for conditions they are at risk of developing.
“Often people go through a lot of stress and lack of support, which can lead to some of the preventable deaths seen after pregnancy. There is a lack of consistent resources and support in place to screen, diagnose and manage people during and after pregnancy,” Roskin said.
Tim Bruckner, associate professor of public health at the University of California, Irvine, says that while the causes of these deaths are multifaceted and complex, new initiatives can help improve outcomes over time.
Health officials should work to expand access to health insurance and improve coverage for prenatal and follow-up care, the report said.
Minimizing barriers to care, such as cost and transportation, can also help improve health outcomes for pregnant and postpartum women.
According to Bruckner, California health officials have already taken several steps to improve outcomes for pregnant women. They now use public health surveillance data to inform clinical change and partner with the private and public health sectors to develop improvement projects aimed at preventing pregnancy-related deaths.
More research is needed to understand how clinical and public health interventions for mothers can help prevent self-harm and substance use disorders, Bruckner added.
“Pregnancy-related deaths in the United States are unacceptably high, especially compared to other high-income countries,” Bruckner said.
According to a new CDC report, four out of five pregnancy-related deaths in the United States are preventable. The most common causes of maternal death are mental health issues, heart disease, infection and hemorrhage. The findings underscore the need to improve access to health insurance and health care so that pregnant women receive the care they need during and after childbirth.