A new study finds that pregnant women are twice as likely to be the victims of assault-related traumas (physical abuse, homicide, or suicide) — and to die from their injuries — than accident-related traumas such as car accidents or falls, compared to non-pregnant women.
The research also found that nearly one in five pregnant women admitted to a trauma center reported a psychiatric illness or arrived at the hospital following a suicide attempt. Minority and uninsured women were also significantly more likely to experience assault.
The findings come from a Pennsylvania statewide analysis of hospital trauma cases occurring over a decade, and were recently presented at the American Congress of Obstetricians & Gynecologists’ (ACOG) Annual Clinical and Scientific Meeting in San Diego.
Previous research on the topic has shown that violence is common in pregnancy — even in relationships with no history of abuse — but the new study is the first large statewide analysis highlighting the effect of violent trauma on maternal mortality.
“Trauma from assaults or accidents complicates one in 12 pregnancies and is the leading non-obstetric cause of death among pregnant women,” said lead author Neha Deshpande, M.D., a clinical resident of obstetrics and gynecology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
“Not only is it associated with complications for the baby, but management of traumatic injuries in pregnant patients has its unique challenges, given the physiologic changes of pregnancy and restrictions doctors may face when treating pregnant patients
“Despite the severity of the issue, little is known about how trauma actually impacts pregnant women since accidental and incidental causes of death are excluded in many statewide and national maternal mortality reviews. The striking results of our study suggest that widespread screening for violence and trauma during pregnancy may provide an opportunity to identify women at risk for death during pregnancy.”
The analysis focused on trauma center admissions from 2005 through 2015, and included nearly 45,000 cases of trauma among victims who were defined as women of childbearing age (14-49).
The findings show that pregnant trauma victims, on average, suffered less severe injuries than non-pregnant women. However, despite less severe injuries, pregnant women were nearly twice as likely to be dead when they arrived at the hospital, or die in the hospital.
In particular, assault-related trauma was about three times more deadly than accident-related trauma. Furthermore, after suffering a violent assault, pregnant women were 4.4 times more likely to be transferred to another facility for obstetric services and support.
“Since the typical definition of maternal deaths includes only those directly caused or impacted by pregnancy, it does not include accidental or incidental causes of death, making it difficult to accurately gauge the burden of trauma-related deaths on maternal mortality,” said senior author Corrina M. Oxford, M.D., an assistant professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
“However, evidence presented in our study suggests this is a pervasive issue that requires further attention to ensure these women, and their babies, are being properly cared for.”
The study also found that nearly one in five pregnant women reported a psychiatric illness or arrived at the hospital following a suicide attempt. Minority and uninsured women were also significantly more likely to experience assault.
The researchers say the findings point to an opportunity for intervention to safeguard pregnant women, and they recommend universal screening of pregnant women at obstetric clinics for assault and mental illness, similar to screenings for postpartum depression.