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The leading cause of maternal deaths in the UK is still cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks, heart failure and heart rhythm problems, and there has been no reduction in maternal cardiovascular mortality rates for more than 15 years.

These are the main findings of a new report, Saving Lives, Improving Mothers’ Care, from the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit (NPEU), part of the Nuffield Department of Population Health (NDPH) at the University of Oxford.

The report is the latest produced for the Maternal, Newborn and Infant Clinical Outcome Review Programme, run by the MBRRACE-UK (Mothers and Babies: Reducing Risk through Audits and Confidential Enquiries across the UK) collaboration. The authors analysed 2.3m pregnancies from 2015-2017 in the UK and Ireland. During that three-year period, 209 women in the UK and Ireland died during their pregnancies or up to six weeks afterwards from pregnancy-related causes. This is equivalent to just over nine women per 100,000.

Of the women who died, 48, or 23%, died from heart disease, while 16% died from blood clots. A further 13% of women’s deaths were caused by epilepsy and stroke.

When the deaths were reviewed, the researchers found that many of the women who died from cardiovascular disease had classic symptoms that would have been flagged in a non-pregnant person, but instead were put down to their pregnancy. Three quarters of the women who died did not know they had heart disease before they became pregnant.

Read more (University of Oxford)