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Risk for pregnancy complications higher during COVID-19 pandemic, study finds

Oct. 15 (UPI) — A pregnant person’s risk for complications, such as gestational diabetes, gestational high blood pressure, poor fetal growth and preeclampsia, increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, a study published Friday by JAMA Network Open found.

Compared with 2019, the year before the coronavirus emerged and spread globally, people were 12% more likely to develop diabetes during pregnancy and 7% more likely to develop high blood pressure during pregnancy in 2020, the height of the pandemic, the data showed.

Similarly, they had a 7% higher risk for poor fetal growth — or low-birth-weight babies — and 4% higher risk for preeclampsia, a condition that causes high blood pressure and liver or kidney problems, the researchers said.

However, rates of stillbirth and preterm delivery were about the same in 2020 as they had been before the pandemic, according to the researchers.

“Our finding that the pandemic period was not associated with a changing risk of stillbirth and provided only modest evidence of a lower risk of preterm birth is broadly consistent with the existing literature,” the researchers wrote.

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“Our study provides novel evidence of the association of the pandemic with the risk of complications that have rarely been documented,” they said.

The study, conducted by researchers at Boston University School of Public Health and Brown University School of Public Health, is the latest to document pregnancy complications related to the pandemic.

Pregnant people suffering from COVID-19 with symptoms are more likely to experience complications that call for an emergency delivery, according to a study presented earlier this month during the annual meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists.

In addition, a study published in August by JAMA Network Open found that pregnant people with COVID-19 are about 40% more likely to deliver their babies prematurely and have a five-fold higher risk for intensive care treatment during childbirth.

This study also found that pregnant women with the virus have a roughly 15-fold higher risk for dying while in the hospital, though this remains rare.

Based on these and other research findings, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month urged those who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant to get vaccinated against the virus.

For this study, the researchers analyzed data on more than 172,000 childbirths in 2019 and compared them with outcomes for nearly 153,000 deliveries in 2020, when outbreaks of COVID-19 were common across the United States.

The most common documented adverse outcome among all pregnancies included in the study was premature rupture of membranes, or early breaking of water, which occurred in 10% of deliveries, the data showed.

Gestational diabetes was diagnosed in about 9% of the pregnant people in the study as was gestational hypertension, or high blood pressure during pregnancy.

Rates for both of these complications were higher in 2020 — 10% for diabetes, 8.7% for high blood pressure — than in 2019, 9% and 8.2%.

Preeclampsia occurred in 6.6% of pregnancies in 2020 compared with 6.2% the year before, while poor fetal growth was recorded in 3.6%, up from 3.3%.

The percentage of premature births remained about the same, 4%, from year to year, according to the researchers.

“CDC encourages all pregnant people or people who are thinking about becoming pregnant and those breastfeeding to get vaccinated to protect themselves from COVID-19,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in August.

“The vaccines are safe and effective, and it has never been more urgent to increase vaccinations as we … see severe outcomes from COVID-19 among unvaccinated pregnant people,” she said

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