Pregnancy-related deaths increasing

December 15, 2010

The rate of pregnancy-related death in the United States is on the rise, and the causes of death are changing, government researchers report.

 

The rate of pregnancy-related death in the United States is on the rise, and the causes of death are changing, government researchers report.

Between 1998 and 2005, the death rate was 14.5 per 100,000 live births, up from a low of 7.4 deaths per 100,000 in 1986, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published in Obstetrics and Gynecology (2010;116[6]:1302-1309). Deaths from direct causes-such as hemorrhage and pregnancy-related hypertension-declined. Deaths from indirect causes-conditions such as heart disease that pregnancy exacerbates-increased. The study was based on data from 4,693 pregnancy-related deaths reported to the CDC from 1998 through 2005.

Although the absolute risk of pregnancy-related death is “very small,” the study shows that women need to make sure that “they are in the best possible health before pregnancy,” notes lead researcher Cynthia J Berg, MD, of the division of reproductive health at the CDC. That includes a prepregnancy visit with an ob/gyn and controlling chronic medical conditions such as hypertension or diabetes before becoming pregnant.

“Our population is changing,” Berg says. A growing number of women of childbearing age have chronic medical conditions.

The study found no narrowing of the longstanding gap in death rates between African American and Caucasian women. The rate among African American women was 37.5 deaths per 100,000 live births compared with 10.2 per 100,000 among Caucasian women and 13.4 per 100,000 for all other racial groups combined.

Researchers caution that recent technical changes in the way states report causes of death to the federal government also may partly explain the findings.