The U leads national study of COVID-19 effects on pregnancy

Doug Dollemore, senior science writer, U of U Health
June 5, 2020

The U leads national study of COVID-19 effects on pregnancy

A University of Utah Health researcher is leading a nationwide study of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on women during and after pregnancy.

Torri D. Metz, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology, is the principal investigator of a multipronged study that will analyze the medical records of up to 21,000 pregnant women. The study, supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), seeks to determine if changes to health care delivery implemented in response to the pandemic have resulted in higher rates of pregnancy-related complications and cesarean delivery.

The study, conducted by researchers in the Maternal-Fetal Medicine Units (MFMU) Network, a group of 12 U.S. clinical centers including the University of Utah Hospital, will also try to establish the risk of pregnant women with COVID-19 transmitting the virus to their fetuses. Newborns will be monitored and assessed until they are discharged from the hospital.

In addition, the scientists will track the health of more than 1,500 pregnant women with confirmed cases of COVID-19 for six weeks after childbirth.

“There have been so many changes in maternal health care in the past few months, both for practitioners and expectant women themselves,” Metz says. “Their relative willingness to come in for care during this time is declining. We’re seeing more and more data nationally that women are delaying presentation for care or not coming in for care at all because they fear contracting COVID-19. That decision actually puts them at higher risk of maternal morbidity and mortality.”

Telehealth can replace much of the necessary care provided by physicians, says Metz, who is also vice chair for research at U of U Health. However, there is the potential that some complications could be missed.

Among the risk factors the researchers will track are increased incidence of high blood pressure, postpartum hemorrhage and infections. The team will analyze medical records of women who delivered children on the same randomly chosen days (April 19, for instance) in 2019 and 2020 to determine if new moms in 2020 had an increased risk of adverse outcomes. The study will run through the end of the year.

“The questions we will be addressing in this study are ones that a lot of practitioners and women who are pregnant or are considering getting pregnant are asking themselves,” Metz says. “Hopefully, this study will illuminate some of the answers so that we can better counsel women on what to expect.”

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The study is funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shiver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).