Pregnancy Deaths on Rise in US, With Minorities Most at Risk

(CN) — Calling attention to the rising risk of women dying during pregnancy, new research shows black are three times more likely than whites to die in America from complications with their pregnancies.

The report Tuesday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention underscores stats showing that the United States is out of step with the rest of the world when it comes to maternal mortality.

Though the World Health Organization found that pregnancy fatalities fell globally between 1990 and 2015 by about 44%, the U.S. has been experiencing a rise of such deaths for decades.

Up from 12 maternal mortalities per 100,000 a quarter-century ago, about 17 out of every 100,000 pregnant women die each year in the United States. 

Tragically, the CDC found that 60% of the 700 deaths the United States sees among pregnant women each year could be prevented. 

“An American mom today is 50% more likely to die in childbirth than her own mother was,” Harvard Medical School obstetrician Neel Shah told the Associated Press.

The CDC’s study looked at 3,410 pregnancy-related deaths that occurred in the United States between 2011 and 2015. At 42.8, black women accounted for the largest number of PRMRs, short for pregnancy-related mortalities, but American Indian/Alaska Native women came in at a close second with 32.5. 

“These PRMRs were 3.3 and 2.5 times as high, respectively, as were those in white women (13.0),” according to the CDC’s report.

New guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists meanwhile say that being black is the greatest risk factor for these deaths. The guidelines urge new moms to get a comprehensive heart-risk evaluation 12 weeks after delivery — a visit that up to 40% of women never make, possibly because of costs.

Today heart-related problems make up the largest cause of pregnancy-related deaths, replacing former leading causes of bleeding and infection.

Because the heart is moving extra blood for mom and her child, James Martin, who heads the guidelines panel at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, told the AP that “pregnancy is really a stress test.”

The CDC noted Tuesday that the 700 annual maternal mortalities were divided evenly between the pregnancy itself, during or within a week of birth, and the following year post-delivery. CDC researchers also found that women ages 35 and older and women who were not married saw the largest number of PRMRs. 

In addition to the risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes, another possible factor that could contribute to the trend of maternal mortalities in America could be the country’s high rate of C-sections.

To turn the corner, the CDC recommends that moms stay vigilant about their health, with help from their families, communities and health care providers.

“Our new analysis underscores the need for access to quality services, risk awareness, and early diagnosis, but it also highlights opportunities for preventing future pregnancy-related deaths,” Wanda Barfield, director of the division of reproductive health at the CDC, said in a statement Tuesday. “By identifying and promptly responding to warning signs not just during pregnancy, but even up to a year after delivery, we can save lives.”

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