No. 1 Cause of Death in Pregnant Women: Murder

Reviewed by Jacqueline Brooks, MBBCH, MRCPsych
From the WebMD Archives

March 20, 2001 (Washington) -- Given all the risks associated with pregnancy, it's easy to imagine that expectant mothers are vulnerable to illnesses and even to death. But shocking new information shows that these women actually are more likely to be murdered than to die from any complications of pregnancy -- or from any other cause for that matter.

"We found that homicide was the leading cause of death among women who were pregnant ... and accounted for 20% of deaths among that group, compared with 6% of deaths among nonpregnant women of reproductive age," says author Isabelle Horon, DrPH, from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, who conducted a study that looked at pregnancy-associated deaths from 1993 to 1998.

Coming in second, heart disease was found to account for 19% of deaths during pregnancy.

"We found that the number of pregnancy-associated deaths was much greater and the causes of pregnancy-associated deaths much broader than we had expected," Horon tells WebMD.

Even factoring in other potential causes for the finding, Horon says the risk of dying from homicide is twice as great in pregnant women as it is nonpregnant women.

The study, which appears in the current Journal of the American Medical Association, suggests that more needs to be done to understand and prevent these tragic deaths, which may occur at the hands of husbands or domestic partners.