Top CDC official says heart disease is 'major factor' in pregnancy-related deaths

A top official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Thursday that heart disease is a “major factor” in pregnancy-related deaths among women in the United States.

“We understand that during the pregnancy period, there are contributions that are occurring that are related, for example to chronic disease — heart disease being the major factor overall,” Wanda Barfield, who is the director the Division of Reproductive Health for the CDC, told Hill.TV.

According to nonprofit group March of Dimes, chronic diseases like heart disease and stroke result in more than 1 in 3 pregnancy-related deaths.

Barfield noted that pregnancy often exacerbates pre-existing health conditions, citing obstetrical emergencies like pregnancy-induced high blood pressure known as pre-eclampsia as another leading cause to life-threatening complications during pregnancy.

The CDC estimates that 700 women die each year in the U.S. as a result of pregnancy or delivery complications. These deaths can occur up to a year after a woman gives birth.

Barfield emphasized that most of these deaths are preventable and called for the development of more multi-state networks known as perinatal quality collaboratives (PQC) as just one potential solution.

The health protection agency already supports several PQCs across the nation, including in states like Colorado, Louisiana and New York. These networks aim to improve the quality of care for mothers and babies, which includes reducing racial and ethnic disparities. 

"Currently, CDC supports about 13 perinatal quality collaboratives but unfortunately, we need a lot more," she said. "Every state should have an opportunity to review their care under the perinatal quality collaboratives."

—Tess Bonn