Hidden killer is leading cause of maternal deaths

6 June 2017        

Category: Research

pregnant women

Heart disease remains the leading cause of maternal death in the UK, but in 77 per cent of cases the women were unaware of a heart condition prior to pregnancy.

The shocking results from a maternal death enquiry were presented today at the British Cardiovascular Society (BCS) conference in Manchester.

One of the assessors on the enquiry, maternal cardiologist Dr Rachael James, said the results highlight that we cannot reduce maternal deaths until we tackle heart disease. Dr James added that this will make it difficult for the government to reach their target to halve maternal deaths by 2030.

Causes of death

The MBRRACE-UK report found that the most common heart-related cause of maternal death was sudden cardiac death (35 per cent) followed by coronary heart disease (22 per cent). Other cardiovascular causes included aortic dissection – a tear in the wall of the heart’s major artery – and cardiomyopathy – where the heart muscle wall is abnormal.

Between 2012 and 2014 in the UK, 8.5 in every 100,000 women died during pregnancy or in the six weeks after the end of the pregnancy. Over 20 per cent of these deaths were attributed to heart disease.

Heart disease risk

Dr Rachael James, Consultant Cardiologist at Sussex Cardiac Centre, who presented the findings today at the BCS conference, said: “The study also emphasises that we are all at risk of cardiovascular disease, regardless of gender, age or race.

“Women trying for a baby or mothers-to-be should also look at their family history for the possibility of any undiagnosed inherited heart conditions, which are often marked by the sudden or unexplained death of relatives."