Study led by Dr. Sadiya Khan of Northwestern U says US maternal mortality rising at alarming rate

Sadiya Khan, MD, Medicine. PHOTO:

A new study led by Dr. Sadiya Khan, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine on March 18, 2024, finds theh US maternal mortality rate has been increasing at an “alarming” rate, and it’s not due to older women giving birth, but in every age group..

In fact, the greatest relative increases have happened in the age groups 25 to 29 and 30 to 34 years.

“A commonly held hypothesis is that more pregnancy-related deaths are occurring because more people are having children later in life, so we wanted to investigate this question,” Dr. Sadiya Khan is quoted saying in a news item on Northwestern University website. Khan is the Magerstadt Professor of Cardiovascular Epidemiology and associate professor of cardiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“However, we found that’s not why we’re seeing a spike in the number of maternal deaths. …Older maternal age is an important risk factor in maternal mortality, but our findings highlight the need to learn what else is causing these rates to accelerate in more recent years, especially in younger adults less than 35 years old. We’re going in the wrong direction.”

Between 2014 and 2021, the average U.S. maternal age increased from 28.3 to 29.4 years old, the study found. During that period, overall maternal mortality rates nearly doubled from 16.5 percent to 31.8 percent. And the largest increase took place more recently – 18.9 to 31.8 percent from 2019 to 2021.

The study could not explore specific causes of death. But Khan’s large body of prior research found that cardiovascular disease (hypertensive disorders, heart failure and stroke) is a major contributor to poor maternal health outcomes, the news report said.

“It is critical that we understand what the causes of deaths are and how we can prevent them, as maternal deaths are largely preventable,” Khan said. “While some states, like Illinois, have maternal mortality review committees, we also need better national infrastructure and surveillance programs to review and address the root causes of maternal health crisis,” she added.

The study also did not explore is the role that racial differences play. Black individuals are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related deaths than white individuals. Khan said future studies will need to investigate this more in depth.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, of the National Institutes of Health funded Khan’s study which began in 2014.



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