Three in five pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S. can be prevented, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Pregnancy-related deaths can occur up to a year after a woman gives birth, according to the report released Tuesday. Of the 700 pregnancy-related deaths that occur in the U.S. each year, about 31% happen during pregnancy, 36% happen during delivery or the week after birth and 33% occur one week to one year after delivery, the report states.
Heart disease and stroke caused more than one in three pregnancy-related deaths, but other leading causes included infections and severe bleeding, according to the CDC.
The leading causes of death varied by the timing of the mother's death, according to the report. Obstetric emergencies such as severe bleeding and amniotic fluid embolism, when the fluid enters a mother's bloodstream, caused the most deaths during delivery. The week after delivery, severe bleeding, high blood pressure and infection were most common causes of death. Between one week and one year after delivery, cardiomyopathy, or weakened heart muscle, caused the most deaths.
The report also found "persistent racial disparities," according to the CDC. Black, American Indian and Alaska native women were about three times as likely to die from a pregnancy-related causes as white women, the data found. However, most deaths were preventable, regardless of race or ethnicity.
The findings resulted from a CDC analysis of national data on pregnancy mortality between between 2011 and 2015, as well as detailed data from 13 state maternal mortality review committees.
Pregnancy-related deaths are defined as the death of a woman during pregnancy or within a year of pregnancy from pregnancy complication, a chain of events initiated by pregnancy or the aggravation of an unrelated condition by the physiologic effects of pregnancy, according to the CDC.
"Every pregnancy-related death reflects a web of missed opportunities," the report states.
The committees determined that each pregnancy-related death was associated with several contributing factors, including lack of access to appropriate and high-quality care, missed or delayed diagnoses and lack of knowledge among patients and providers around warning signs. The majority of the deaths, no matter when they occurred, could have been prevented by addressing the factors at multiple levels, according to the CDC.
Ensuring quality care for mothers throughout pregnancy and postpartum "should be among our Nation's highest priorities," CDC Director Robert R. Redfield said in a statement.
"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," Redfield said.
In addition to healthcare providers working to prevent maternal deaths, women and their families can know and communicate about the warning symptoms of complications and note their recent pregnancy history any time they receive medical care in the year after delivery, according to the CDC.