Pregnant women with disabilities have a much higher risk for severe pregnancy- and birth-related complications and death than other pregnant women, according to findings by researchers at the National Institutes of Health. Appearing in JAMA Network Open, the analysis of more than 223,000 deliveries in 19 U.S. hospitals found that roughly 2,199 women had a disability.
"Additional research is needed to understand the reasons for this increased risk and to develop needed interventions to reduce it," said lead author Jessica L. Gleason, Ph.D., of NIH's Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Disabilities included physical (affecting mobility, physical capacity, or dexterity), sensory (affecting sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell), or intellectual. Compared to women without disabilities, women with disabilities had:
Women with disabilities have a pregnancy rate roughly equivalent to those without disabilities, but have a higher proportion of health risk factors than women without disabilities. Previous studies have found that women with disabilities have a higher risk of pregnancy complications such as preterm birth, hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, gestational diabetes, and cesarean delivery. However, little was known about the risk women with disabilities have for these severe pregnancy complications.
The authors noted that women with disabilities are more likely to live in poverty, which may make accessing health care in a timely manner difficult. Those with physical disabilities also may have difficulty accessing health care facilities. Other factors that may increase their health risks are higher rates of smoking, substance use, and depression.