Maternal Deaths Following Cesarean Delivery Can Be Reduced

New study published in American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology

New York, August 4, 2008 – Maternal death rates have remained constant in the United States for many decades. Are there any improvements in health care that could reduce these rates further? In a study published in the July 2008 issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, researchers examined all maternal deaths in nearly 1.5 million birth records from the last 6 years to look for possible keys to saving more mothers. The study demonstrated that the risk of death attributable to cesarean delivery, approximately 2/100,000 procedures, can realistically be reduced only with universal thromboembolism prophylaxis for patients delivered by cesarean.

The study identified 95 maternal deaths among 1,461,270 births (6.5/100,000 births). Leading causes of death were complications of preeclampsia, amniotic fluid embolism, obstetric hemorrhage, cardiac disease, and pulmonary thromboembolism.

The risk of death causally related to cesarean delivery is approximately 2/100,000 cesareans vs 0.2/100,000 deaths caused by vaginal birth. This statistically significant difference (P<.001) translates into approximately 20 US deaths caused by cesarean delivery annually.

Nine patients died from pulmonary thromboembolism, 7 after cesarean delivery and 2 after vaginal birth. None had received peripartum thromboembolism prophylaxis in the form of either fractionated or unfractionated heparin or pneumatic compression devices.

Writing in the article, Steven L. Clark, MD, Medical Director of the Women and Newborns Clinical Program, Hospital Corporation of America, states, “In nearly every population of adult surgical patients, either medical or mechanical thromboprophylaxis reduces venous thromboembolism by approximately 70%...If one assumes similar efficacy in pregnant women, 5 of the 7 deaths from pulmonary embolism in women undergoing cesarean delivery would have been prevented if a policy of universal use of medical or mechanical thromboprophylaxis for patients undergoing cesarean had been in place. Such a policy would reduce the mortality rate attributed causally to cesarean delivery to 0.9/100,000, or approximately 9 US deaths annually, eliminating the statistical difference in deaths attributed to cesarean vs. vaginal birth.” Dr. Clark notes that the Hospital Corporation of American has instituted such a policy to improved patient safety throughout their system, the largest in the United States.

Dr. Clark continues, “It seems clear that the majority of maternal deaths in the United States are not preventable. The most common preventable errors in preeclampsia management leading to maternal death involved inattention to blood pressure control and signs or symptoms of pulmonary edema; those involving postpartum hemorrhage deaths were related to inadequate surgical hemostasis. In all these cases, more prompt attention to clinical signs of hemorrhage and associated hypovolemia would also have prevented death.”

The article is “Maternal Death in the 21st Century: Causes, Prevention and Relationship to Cesarean Delivery” by Steven Clark, MD; Michael Belfort, MD; Gary Dildy, MD; Melissa Herbst, MD; Janet A. Meyers, RN; and Gary Hankins, MD. It appears in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Volume 199, Issue 1 (July 2008) published by Elsevier.

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Full text of the article is available upon request. Contact Pamela Poppalardo, at (212) 633-3944 or to obtain copies.

To schedule an interview with Dr. Clark, please contact him directly at 406-596-5998 or 801-440-1630 or via email at

About The American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology
The American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, known as “The Gray Journal,” presents coverage of the entire spectrum of the field, from the newest diagnostic procedures to leading-edge research. The Journal provides comprehensive coverage of the specialty, including maternal-fetal medicine, reproductive endocrinology/infertility, and gynecologic oncology. It also publishes the annual meeting papers of several of its more than 30 sponsoring societies, including the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine and the Society of Gynecologic Surgeons.

The American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology's 2007 Impact Factor is 2.917 (previously 2.805) and it continues to be ranked #1 in citations in the Obstetrics & Gynecology category, according to the latest Journal Citation Reports® 2008, published by Thomson Reuters. Having moved up to the #7 position, the Journal’s standard of excellence and continued success can be attributed to the strong leadership of the Editors-in-Chief, Thomas J. Garite, MD and Moon H. Kim, MD, and their outstanding nationally and internationally recognized editorial board and reviewers.

About Elsevier
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Media Contact:
Pamela Poppalardo
+1 212 633 3944