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Pregnancy-related deaths can occur up to a year after a woman gives birth – but whenever they occur, most of these deaths are preventable, according to a new CDC Vital Signs report.

Of the 700 pregnancy-related deaths that happen each year in the United States, nearly 31 percent happen during pregnancy, 36 percent happen during delivery or the week after, and 33 percent happen one week to one year after delivery.

Overall, heart disease and stroke caused more than 1 in 3 (34 percent) pregnancy-related deaths. Other leading causes included infections and severe bleeding. The leading causes of death varied by timing of the pregnancy-related death.

The findings are the result of a CDC analysis of 2011-2015 national data on pregnancy mortality and of 2013-2017 detailed data from 13 state maternal mortality review committees. CDC defines pregnancy-related death as the death of a woman during pregnancy or within one year of the end of pregnancy from a pregnancy complication; a chain of events initiated by pregnancy; or the aggravation of an unrelated condition by the physiologic effects of pregnancy.

The data confirm persistent racial disparities: Black and American Indian/Alaska Native women were about three times as likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause as white women. However, the new analysis also found that most deaths were preventable, regardless of race or ethnicity.


Robert R. Redfield, M.D., CDC Director

“Ensuring quality care for mothers throughout their pregnancies and postpartum should be among our Nation’s highest priorities,” said CDC Director Robert R. Redfield, M.D. “Though most pregnancies progress safely, I urge the public health community to increase awareness with all expectant and new mothers about the signs of serious pregnancy complications and the need for preventative care that can and does save lives.”


Every pregnancy-related death reflects a web of missed opportunities

The CDC Vital Signs report provides the most current data available from CDC’s Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System. It also summarizes potential prevention strategies from 13 state maternal mortality review committees (MMRCs). MMRCs are multidisciplinary groups of experts that review maternal deaths to better understand how to prevent future deaths.

The committees determined that each pregnancy-related death was associated with several contributing factors, including access to appropriate and high-quality care, missed or delayed diagnoses, and lack of knowledge among patients and providers around warning signs. MMRC data suggest that the majority of deaths – regardless of when they occurred – could have been prevented by addressing these factors at multiple levels.

Source of original article: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) / CDC Online Newsroom (tools.cdc.gov).
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