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Black Women 243% More Likely to Die During Pregnancy, Childbirth and Postpartum

A yearlong investigation by ProPublica and NPR has revealed that in addition to the U.S. having the highest rate of maternal death of any industrialized country, black women are 243% more likely than whites or hispanics to die during pregnancy, childbirth or the postpartum period.

Why are Mothers Dying During Pregnancy and Childbirth?
For women of all ethnic backgrounds, data from the CDC shows that the rate of severe complications related to childbirth more than doubled between 1993-2014. The ProPublica/NPR investigation points to a variety of factors contributing to the increase in the maternal death rate; chief among them are increases in the average age and weight of pregnant women. Factors such as age and weight mean a greater likelihood of diabetes and high blood pressure (hypertension). The report also cites a 2008-2012 study of women in New York hospitals that found that women with “severe pre-existing conditions were three times as likely as other new mothers to experience life-threatening impacts of childbirth.” If anything, the knowledge of the increasing rate of maternal deaths due to age and weight should urge healthcare providers to practice precaution over a more laid back approach to addressing complaints and even borderline abnormal symptoms in pregnant and postpartum women.

In August this year, our blog discussed another ProPublica/NPR feature about the prevalence of Preeclampsia and HELLP Syndrome and how many physicians overlook what should be obvious signs of the diseases in expectant and postpartum mothers. That feature also revealed that the United States has the worst maternal death rate of any industrialized nation. We are supposed to be on the frontlines of research and advances in medicine, so why are we dying more frequently here than in countries such as Canada, the UK or a long list of other places? Even worse, not only are we dying more frequently in the U.S., but we’re dragging down the worldwide average of maternal deaths, which had dropped from 2000-2015. We are one of a few nations whose maternal death rate is actually on the rise.

According to the New York Times, research into the latest data tells us that the cause of the rising number of maternal death is still partly due to pregnancy-related complications such as Preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome, but more so due to underlying conditions. Dr. William Callaghan of the CDC tells the NY Times that “The really scary thing to us is all the deaths from cardiovascular disease and heart disease. It’s a quarter of all deaths. There were almost none in the remote past.”

Black Women Exposed to More Stress, Disease
The revelation that black mothers are dying at an alarmingly higher rate than other ethnicities also comes from  data supplied by the CDC. The dramatic difference is considered to be indicative of the fact that black women are exposed to stress longer and more frequently and are also more prone to chronic diseases that can impact their overall health. Other experts speculate that it is also due to a disparity in the access to healthcare for black women, as well as a difference in how black women are treated by healthcare providers.

The statistics for black women and heart disease are unsettling. According to the American Heart Association, 49% of black women age 20 and older have some form of heart disease.
If nearly half of all black women have heart disease, then every prudent provider of obstetric care should screen their patient for signs and symptoms and carefully monitor them throughout their pregnancy. There is simply no excuse for a woman to die while pregnant, delivering a child, or soon after giving birth, especially with data telling us these conditions make pregnancy and birth riskier staring us right in the face.

We Are Chicago’s Maternal Injury and Wrongful Death Attorneys
If you or someone you love has experienced any significant injury resulting from a doctor, nurse, or midwife’s failure to recognize and treat symptoms related to any type of heart disease, diabetes, Preeclampsia, HELLP Syndrome, an infection, hemorrhage, or any other of the serious diseases and conditions that can impact expectant and new mothers, please contact us for a free consultation.

Our Chicago medical malpractice attorneys have successfully tried and settled numerous maternal death and injury cases in Chicago and throughout Illinois, including a $5.35 million dollar settlement for a Chicago mother who died from a form of heart disease, postpartum cardiomyopathy, one month after the birth of her first child.