WEDNESDAY, Oct. 10, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- Black women have the highest risk of life-threatening birth complications in the United States, a new study finds.
Compared to whites, black women had a 70 percent higher rate of major birth problems, the University of Michigan researchers reported.
"Celebrities like Serena Williams who have shared their birth-related emergency stories publicly have drawn the national spotlight to the urgent need to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in care for women around the time of delivery," said study lead author Dr. Lindsay Admon. She said studies like this one are needed to drive and target those changes.
Medical conditions -- including asthma, diabetes, depression or substance abuse -- greatly increase the odds of severe problems after childbirth, the researchers also found.
"Women of color who have multiple health conditions before they have their baby appear to experience a 'double-whammy' effect," said Admon, an obstetrician at Michigan Medicine's Women's Hospital in Ann Arbor.
She added that this "should force us to think about how to structure care to best serve these vulnerable women, not only during pregnancy, but before and after giving birth, too."
Each year, tens of thousands of U.S. women have serious complications that require emergency treatment to save their lives during or immediately after giving birth.
For the new study, the researchers analyzed data from more than 2.5 million birth-related hospitalizations nationwide from 2012 to 2015.
The analysis showed that 1.6 percent (nearly 41,000) of the women in the study underwent an emergency procedure or were diagnosed with a life-threatening condition.
Black and Hispanic women had higher rates of severe birth-related health issues than whites, even if they had no other health problems, the investigators found.
Among black women, there was a severe problem in 231 of every 10,000 births, compared with 139 of every 10,000 births among white women, according to the report.
The study focused on the following issues: blood transfusion; blood-clotting disorders; heart failure; hysterectomy during or following delivery; acute lung problems; kidney failure; eclampsia (seizures caused by high blood pressure); shock; and sepsis.
Blood transfusion -- most often for severe bleeding -- was the most common issue, occurring in three-quarters of cases and accounting for most of the racial disparity, the researchers said.
"Taken together, our findings shed light on women of color as a high-risk population for each of the problems examined," Admon said in a university news release.
The study was published Oct. 10 in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.
The U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development has more on birth complications.