Maternal Deaths: Post-Birth Preeclampsia and Others
October 17, 2017
Somewhere between 700-900 women die in the U.S. each year from childbirth or pregnancy-related causes. In fact, women in this country are at three-times the risk for dying during the “maternal period” (from the start of pregnancy to one year after giving birth) as those in Canada are.
The number of women who die from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes has actually been going up since 2000. Women who are lower-income, live in rural areas or are African-American are at a disproportionately higher risk for maternal mortality compared to other groups. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over half of these deaths are entirely preventable.
Since writing a report on the rise in maternal death rates across the country, ProPublica and National Public Radio (NPR) have continued to research the dangers that new mothers face as well as what doctors, nurses and hospitals can do to keep them safe. NPR found that women can be at a higher risk for maternal death when their doctors don’t take their concerns seriously and when they don’t know what postpartum warning signs to watch out for.
New mothers who have just been discharged may want to avoid returning to the hospital if they absolutely don’t need to return – often, they’re exhausted from just giving birth or having C-sections and are taking care of a new baby, but some post-birth conditions require immediate medical attention to avoid serious consequences. Although it isn’t common, women can develop severe preeclampsia after they give birth and they may not know what warning signs to look for. Post-birth preeclampsia kills dozens of women annually, but it can be treated if it is found quickly.
Post-birth, or postpartum preeclampsia is a condition in which a woman has excess protein present in her urine as well as high blood pressure after childbirth. Typically postpartum preeclampsia develops within two days of childbirth, but in rare cases it can develop up to six weeks after. If women do not receive prompt treatment, postpartum preeclampsia can cause seizures or even death.
Because the condition is rare, there is a limited amount of research that has been conducted on its risk factors. According to the Mayo Clinic, having a history of high blood pressure during a recent pregnancy or a family history can increase a woman’s risk of developing post-birth preeclampsia. Women under 20 and over 40 are at a higher risk, as well as those who are obese or are having multiple children in one pregnancy.
Women who have given birth or had a C-section within the last six weeks should look out for signs such as:
- Sudden weight gain – usually 2 or more pounds per week;
- High blood pressure;
- Severe headaches;
- Swelling of the face or limbs;
- Decreased urination;
- Proteinuria (excess protein in urine);
- Changes in vision, including blurred vision, light sensitivity or temporary loss of vision;
- Nausea or vomiting, and:
- Upper abdominal pain – especially on the right side under the ribs
To read more about the warning signs of postpartum preeclampsia, please visit the Mayo Clinic website. If you are a new mother and you think you are exhibiting symptoms of preeclampsia, please call 9-1-1 or consult directly with a physician as soon as possible.
In other cases, new mothers who became severely ill after giving birth or nearly died said their doctors and nurses simply didn’t take them seriously. One woman who had a stroke after she gave birth said that when she expressed her worries to her care provider she was told that she was simply “anxious” or “hormonal.” When doctors or nurses underestimate the severity of a new mother’s health complaints, the effects can be life threatening.
The child is often the focus of post-birth appointments, and many doctors may not be well educated enough on various postpartum risks that women face. Some doctors and nurses believe that post-birth women are more likely to be emotional, scared and exaggerative over concerns – as a result, the very people meant to protect them put their health in danger.
Luckily, many organizations and hospitals have begun to implement initiatives meant to improve maternal safety. Many of these initiatives not only intend to further educate new moms on what to expect and look out for after childbirth, but also help care providers to keep an eye out for emergent medical situations.
When it comes to medical issues, one thing typically rings true: speaking up for yourself is important. NPR asked women who survived post-birth medical errors or near death experiences what they would recommend to other expectant mothers. Here are a few of their tips:
- Make sure you (and your provider) have an emergency plan – whether or not you’ve picked a birthing center or a hospital setting;
- Change providers if you do not feel comfortable for any reason;
- Always have a friend or partner with you – they can ask questions and advocate for you;
- Communicate your feelings about life-saving measures to your spouse or family member;
- Write down any questions you have for your doctor before your appointment or discussion, and:
- Pay attention to any symptoms you’re having and discuss them with your doctor
New mothers have a lot on their plates: their bodies have just undergone a tremendous strain, they are taking care of a brand new baby and they are often exhausted. Most maternal illnesses and deaths are preventable – but it is crucial to keep an eye out for any warning signs or concerning symptoms like the ones discussed here. If you are a new mom, please be sure to consult a doctor if you are having any health problems.
Philadelphia Medical Malpractice Lawyers at Galfand Berger, LLP Pursue Recoveries for Victims of Medical Negligence and Misdiagnoses
If you or a loved one has been hurt or fatally injured due to a medical oversight or error during or after giving birth, please contact our Philadelphia medical malpractice attorneys. With offices located in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Reading and Lancaster, Galfand Berger serves clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. To schedule a consultation, call us at 800-222-8792 or complete our online contact form.