Study tracks long-term health risks to women after having a C-section


Aug. 9, 2017

BOSTON — As C-section rates around the globe continue to climb, a new study shows that women who give birth by cesarean may face significant long-term health risks later in life, including an increased risk of needing a hysterectomy and more surgical complications when undergoing a hysterectomy.

The study, published in the Aug 9 issue of JAMA Surgery, was led by researchers at Aalborg University in Denmark and at Ariadne Labs in Boston. They examined a nationwide database of all women who gave birth over a 20-year period in Denmark. The records of 7,685 women, who had a mean age of 40, were included in the study.

More than 23 million women across the globe have C-sections each year, making it the most common surgery in the world by far. More than one million women have hysterectomies later in life to remove their uterus, most often because of pain and/or bleeding. While the short-term risks of C-sections have been well documented, this study is the first population-wide analysis of long-term harms to women resulting from cesarean delivery.

“While mothers in many parts of the world do not have safe and timely access to C-sections, most countries that have the capacity to do C-sections seem to err on the side of doing too many,” said obstetrician and study co-author Dr. Neel Shah, who leads the Delivery Decisions Initiative at Ariadne Labs. “In the United States, about half the C-sections we do appear to be avoidable. This study is the first to estimate the potential population-wide harms of this trend to mothers over the long term”

“Because women often have more than one baby, we are the only surgeons that routinely cut on the same scar

Surgeons often cut on the same scar when performing C-sections and hysterectomies, leading to adhesions that can make surgery more technically difficult.
Surgeons often cut on the same scar when performing C-sections and hysterectomies, leading to adhesions that can make surgery more technically difficult.

over and over again,” said Shah, “and that makes surgery technically harder each time. The internal tissue starts to fuse together and can look like a melted box of crayons. C-sections and hysterectomies are two of the most common surgeries performed on women, and those who require both are at significantly higher risk of complications.”

Researchers found that women who had at least one birth and a hysterectomy, were 50 percent more likely to have delivered their baby by C-section than the general population, suggesting that receiving a C-section may put women a higher risk of needing a hysterectomy later in life. Compared to women who gave birth vaginally, women who had a C-section and later needed a hysterectomy were more 16 percent more likely to experience postoperative complications such as bleeding or infection and 30 percent more likely to require reoperation. Those who had two or more C-sections were 96 percent more likely to require blood transfusions during the hysterectomy.

“In Denmark, the national C-section rate is 19.9 percent and we do approximately 6,000 hysterectomies per year,” said Dr. Thomas Laren, a study co-author and president of the Danish Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology. “By contrast, the United States has a much higher C-section rate of 32 percent and does nearly half a million hysterectomies per year. I would expect that in the U.S., and other countries that perform more c-sections, the long term harms are even greater than those we observed in Denmark.”

Study authors concluded that the results support policies and clinical efforts to prevent cesarean deliveries that are not medically necessary. The Delivery Decisions Initiative led by Shah is working to identify the key drivers of dangerously high C-section rates and to develop a health-system level solution to the problem.

Media Contact:
Deborah O’Neil
Ariadne Labs Director of Communications