By Eleni Z. Tsigas
May is Preeclampsia Awareness Month and the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology highlighted some new research published by doctors and researchers at the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative that demonstrated that the majority of preeclampsia-related deaths could have been prevented. This is significant because preeclampsia is one of the top perinatal causes of death. Today on Science & Sensibility, Preeclampsia Foundation Executive Director Eleni Z. Tsigas provides an update on this new research and important facts that birth professionals should know. As childbirth educators, along with teaching families about normal labor and birth, we have an obligation to share information about warning signs and potential complications. While not as much “fun” as teaching how to cope with a contraction, it is equally important. Have you checked out the information available at the Preeclampsia Foundation‘s website? There is a great short video, class tear sheets and even information en español. How do you teach about preeclampsia to the families that you work with? Let us know in the comments section. – Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager
Research published in the April 2015 issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology shows that 60 percent of preeclampsia-related maternal deaths were deemed preventable. This large study – Pregnancy-Related Mortality in California: Causes, Characteristics, and Improvement Opportunities – analyzed U.S. pregnancy-related mortality administrative reports and medical records for each maternal death to identify the causes and contributing factors, and improve public health and clinical practices.
Over the last 20 years, a previous decline in maternal deaths has reversed and is cause for concern. The 2009 U.S. pregnancy-related mortality rate was 17.8 deaths per 100,000 live births, up from 7.7 per 100,000 in 1997 and above that of other high-resource countries.
One of every eight U.S. births occurs in California, resulting in more than 500,000 annual deliveries with extensive racial and ethnic diversity. With California’s large population-based sample, this study provides a unique opportunity to compare major causes of pregnancy-related mortality and identify improvement opportunities.
Preeclampsia-related maternal death deemed most preventable
Among the 207 pregnancy-related deaths from 2002 to 2005 studied in California, preeclampsia or eclampsia were identified as one of the five leading causes. The others were cardiovascular disease, hemorrhage, venous thromboembolism, and amniotic fluid embolism.
Of the five leading causes of death, preeclampsia was deemed one of the most preventable – preeclampsia-related deaths had a good-to-strong chance of preventability, estimated at 60%.
Healthcare provider factors were the most common type of contributor, especially delayed response to clinical warning signs followed by ineffective care.
Patients play important role in preventing preeclampsia-related deaths
The leading patient factors among preeclampsia deaths were delays in seeking care (42%), presumed lack of knowledge regarding the severity of a symptom or condition (39%), and underlying medical condition (39%).
Preeclampsia deaths were most common among foreign-born Hispanic and African American women and associated with early gestational age, consistent with studies demonstrating the increased severity of early-onset preeclampsia.
These findings illustrate the need for public health interventions aimed at helping all women understand and recognize their risks and attain optimal pre-pregnancy health and weight.
It’s worth noting that since the study period, patient awareness has improved, led by several Preeclampsia Foundation education initiatives – currently preeclampsia awareness among pregnant women is 83%, according to a survey conducted last year by BabyCenter®.
The findings also underscore the need for focused approaches to improve care such as hospital-based safety bundles as well as comprehensive programs for patient education, communication, and teamwork development. Read the full report here.
Maternal health improvement initiatives underway
As these Pregnancy-Related Mortality research findings are announced, several states have already moved forward with maternal health improvement initiatives. Recently the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative (CMQCC), Hospital Corporation of America, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists released guidelines and quality improvement toolkits with standardized approaches to recognize and treat severe hypertension, and to increase awareness of atypical clinical presentations and patient education.
CMQCC’s Preeclampsia Toolkit incorporated the Preeclampsia Foundation’s Illustrated Symptoms Tear Pad that effectively informs women who are pregnant or recently gave birth about preeclampsia, which can strike up to six weeks after delivery. Developed by the Preeclampsia Foundation and researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, the tear pad uses illustrations to describe the symptoms of preeclampsia so they are easily understandable, especially for those with poor health literacy. This toolkit is freely available online and has been downloaded by over 5,100 persons in the United States and more than 60 other countries. It is also being implemented in more than 150 California hospitals as part of the California Partnership for Maternal Safety.
In the year since implementing a Severe Maternal Morbidity Pre- and Post-Toolkit, CMQCC has noted a 34% reduction in maternal adverse outcomes. After implementing Pre- and Post-Hypertension Bundles, the rate of eclampsia has decreased by 31%.
New York joins California in distributing the tear pad throughout the state – as part of a statewide Maternal Preeclampsia Initiative, the New York State Perinatal Quality Collaborative, an initiative of the New York State Department of Health and the New York State Partnership for Patients – has adopted this patient education tool, making it available to all New York birthing facilities.
The Preeclampsia Foundation is proud to play a role in reversing the rate of maternal mortality and severe morbidity; it’s a team effort that requires the combined efforts of public health, clinical and hospital leaders and their institutions, and professional and consumer organizations.
Main, E. K., McCain, C. L., Morton, C. H., Holtby, S., & Lawton, E. S. (2015). Pregnancy-related mortality in California: causes, characteristics, and improvement opportunities. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 125(4), 938-947.
About Eleni Z. Tsigas
Eleni Z. Tsigas is the Executive Director of the Preeclampsia Foundation. Prior to this position, she served in a variety of volunteer capacities for the organization, including six years on the Board of Directors, two as its chairman. Working with dedicated volunteers, board members and professional staff, Eleni has helped lead the Foundation to its current position as a sustainable, mission-driven, results-oriented organization.
As a preeclampsia survivor herself, Eleni is a relentless champion for the improvement of patient and provider education and practices, for the catalytic role that patients can have to advance the science and status of maternal-infant health, and for the progress that can be realized by building global partnerships to improve patient outcomes.
She has served as a technical advisor to the World Health Organization (WHO) and participated in the Hypertension in Pregnancy Task Force created by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to develop the national guidelines introduced in 2013, as well as a similar task force for the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative (CMQCC). Eleni also serves on the National Partnership for Maternal Safety initiative, the Patient Advisory Board of IMPROvED (IMproved PRegnancy Outcomes via Early Detection), Ireland, and the Technical Advisory Group and Knowledge Translation Committee for PRE-EMPT (funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation). Eleni is frequently engaged as an expert representing the consumer perspective on preeclampsia at national and international meetings, and has been honored to deliver keynote addresses for several professional healthcare providers’ societies.
Eleni has collaborated in numerous research studies, has authored invited chapters and papers in peer-reviewed journals, and is the Principal Investigator for The Preeclampsia Registry.
A veteran of public relations, she has secured media coverage about preeclampsia in national consumer magazines, as well as newspapers, radio and online. Eleni previously spent 8 years executing and managing strategic communications and public relations for technology and biotech companies with Waggener Edstrom Worldwide and for 6 years prior in the television industry.
She is married, and has had two of her three pregnancies seriously impacted by preeclampsia.