Sep 20, 2022 - Health

More than 4 in 5 of U.S. pregnancy-related deaths are avoidable, CDC says

Preventability of pregnancy-related deaths
Data: CDC; Note: A death is considered preventable if the committee determines that there was at least some chance of the death being averted by one or more reasonable changes to patient, community, provider, facility, and/or systems factors. Preventability was unable to be determined for 22 pregnancy-related deaths; Chart: Nicki Camberg/Axios

More than 80% of pregnancy-related deaths that occurred between 2017 and 2019 were preventable, according to a new CDC report released Tuesday.

Why it matters: Researchers found six underlying causes accounted for the majority of fatalities: mental health conditions, hemorrhaging, heart problems, infections, blood clots and cardiomyopathy. The leading causes varied by race and ethnicity.

  • The CDC's Maternal Mortality Review Committees found that 84.2% of recorded pregnancy-related deaths from 2017 to 2019 were preventable.
  • The panel recommended increased access to insurance coverage to improve prenatal care and follow-up after pregnancy, reducing transportation barriers that keep people from getting care and more systems for referrals and coordination.

By the numbers: 22% of pregnancy-related deaths took place during pregnancy, and 25% occurred on the the day of delivery or within a week after.

  • 53% of the deaths occurred between a week and a year of giving birth.

State of play: Federal law requires states to provide pregnancy-related Medicaid coverage up to 60 days after giving birth, and Congress last year gave states the option to extend postpartum coverage to a full year.

Details: Cardiac conditions were the leading underlying cause of pregnancy-related deaths for non-Hispanic Black people; mental health conditions were the leading cause for Hispanic and non-Hispanic whites and hemorrhages were the leading cause for Asian people.

  • Most pregnancy-related deaths occurred among non-Hispanic white people (46.6%), followed by non-Hispanic Black people (31.4%) and Hispanic people (14.4%).

What they're saying: "The majority of pregnancy-related deaths were preventable, highlighting the need for quality improvement initiatives in states, hospitals, and communities that ensure all people who are pregnant or postpartum get the right care at the right time," said Wanda Barfield, director of the CDC's Division of Reproductive Health at the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

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