Third of U.S. Pregnancy Deaths Linked To Hypertensive Disorders: CDC

The rise in hypertensive disorders syncs with increases in obesity, diabetes, and an increase in pregnancies among older women, but are mostly preventable with better access to quality healthcare.

Racial and ethnic inequities, as well as differences in access to quality health care, are considered contributing factors to a rise in U.S. hypertensive pregnancy death rates in recent years, according to study by federal researchers.

A recent study conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides insight into the steady increase of pregnancy-related deaths due to hypertensive disorders in the United States; and the strategies that can be employed to reduce them.

Researchers at the CDC have determined that between 2017 and 2019, the number of pregnant women suffering from hypertensive disorders increased staggeringly. In that two-year period, the percentage of women diagnosed and treated for hypertensive disorders in pregnancy (HDP) rose from 13% to 16%, meaning one in every seven pregnant women in the U.S. suffered from HDP, with a third of delivery-related deaths being attributed to the disorder.

There are four categories of HDP: chronic hypertension, gestational hypertension, preeclampsia-eclampsia, and chronic hypertension with superimposed preeclampsia. These disorders are as deadly as they are common, resulting in severe complications like heart attacks, and strokes. In the U.S., they are among the leading causes of maternal and fetal morbidity and mortality.

The rise in the prevalence of HDP may be explained by a similar surge in the characteristics associated with the increased risk of the disorders. The U.S. has experienced a rapid increase in people suffering from obesity and diabetes. There have also been more pregnancies in people age 35 and above, which is considered advanced maternal age. All of these place someone at greater risk of HDP. Of those hospitalized for childbirth, the highest prevalence of HDP, 31%, was seen in women over the age of 45.

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The research also revealed a connection between advanced numbers of HDP diagnoses, race, and ethnicity.

“Racial and ethnic disparities of HDP among hospital deliveries are stark, with HDP affecting more than 1 in 5 delivery hospitalizations of Black women and about 1 in 6 delivery hospitalizations of American Indian and Alaska Native women,” according to CDC researchers. “Factors contributing to racial and ethnic inequities in HDP include differences in access to and quality of health care and higher prevalence of characteristics associated with increased risk like obesity.”

The complications and loss of life from HDP are preventable, according to experts. Monitoring and appropriately treating those with HDP with continuous and coordinated care are key to the prevention of the disorders.

The CDC also recommends increased awareness of urgent maternal warning signs such as dizziness and fainting, headaches that won’t go away or worsen over time, vision changes, extreme swelling of the face and/or hands, and a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher. These symptoms could indicate a life-threatening situation. It is recommended that any pregnant person experiencing these symptoms seek medical care immediately.


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