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Majority of pregnancy-related deaths can be prevented, CDC says

Antonio Guillem
Doctors suggest better access to healthcare and continuing obstetrician appointments to prevent pregnancy-related deaths.

Eighty percent of pregnancy-related deaths, including those caused by opioid overdose, excessive bleeding, heart problems and infections, are preventable, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Many of the pregnancy-related deaths occur up to a year after a woman gives birth, the report said.

It is important to continue to see an obstetrician after having a baby because they are trained to look for problems that may arise, said Dr. Kelly Gibson, director of maternal fetal medicine at MetroHealth.

“Four to six weeks after delivery, many of these patients are not coming primarily to obstetricians,” Gibson said. “They're seeing their primary care doctors or, they’re being seen in emergency rooms. It's important for all providers to recognize that when a patient has had a recent pregnancy some of their underlying conditions may have changed.”

The Ohio Department of Health figures show that between 2008 and 2016 there were 24 pregnancy-related deaths in Cuyahoga County and eight pregnancy-related deaths in Summit County.

Providing better access to insurance coverage and transportation to follow up appointments can also prevent deaths, she said.

“It’s incredibly important that patients have extended Medicaid so that all patients with chronic illnesses can come in and get the care that they need,” Gibson said.

Gibson said there is also a need to break down structural barriers in order to make pregnancy safer for Black women and other people of color.

“Persons of color have about three times the risk of mortality from pregnancy compared to white patients," Gibson said. “Those are things that we are working on here at Metro, in terms of improving access and reducing bias among health care providers.”

The CDC also recommends that healthcare systems, communities, families and other support systems be extremely aware of serious pregnancy-related complications that happen during and after pregnancy.

Tyisha is a reporter/producer for Ideastream Public Media’s health team.