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Obesity link to maternal deaths

4th December 2007

A report has shown that obese women are far more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth in the UK.

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Women who were classified as overweight or obese made up over 50% of the deaths during or after pregnancy - from 2 million pregnancies - during 2003 to 2005.

 

On a global scale, the UK has some of the lowest death rates in pregnancy or childbirth, but figures have just started to increase. In 2003-05 the rate was 13.95 per 100,000 births - an increase from 9.83 in 1985-87.

The Confidential Enquiries into Maternal Deaths (CEMACH) report showed that moderate weight gain during pregnancy represented a low risk, but obesity greatly raised the danger of death. 15% of the deaths were women who were "morbid or super-morbidly obese".

Gwyneth Lewis, CEMACH director and the government's maternity tsar, said that, although giving birth in the UK was very safe: "Obese pregnant women are probably at four or five times greater risk of suffering maternal death than a woman of normal weight - and the same for their babies dying."

The report warned that being overweight or obese could also cloud symptoms and cause difficulties in treatment. One woman's treatment was delayed, although she had a danger of seizures, because the blood pressure cuff was not able to wrap around her arm.

Dr Helen Brandon from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead stated that about one third of the women they see were obese. The hospital has needed to purchase a new operating table which is capable of supporting 40 stone (254kg) in weight.

Dr Brandon said: "The most common [risks] are dangerously high blood pressure, heart disease such as angina...and obese patients are much more prone to bleeding."




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