Friday, November 2, 2018

The High Price of Multiple Cesareans

A recent study once again reinforces the message that the more cesareans are done, the higher the risk for complications.

In previous posts, we have mostly discussed cesarean risks in terms of future pregnancies. We have written about Placenta Accreta Spectrum several times here already. This is where the placenta implants too deeply into the uterus. This is a life-threatening potential complication of pregnancies after cesareans, and the risk goes up with the number of prior cesareans. 

However, the risks with multiple cesareans aren't limited only to future pregnancies.

This new study highlights that the risk for other problems occurring during and after surgery also rises with the number of prior cesareans. The study found that: 
  • After 2 cesareans, the risk for organ injury and hysterectomy increased
  • After 3 cesareans, the risk for hemorrhage (massive bleeding) and surgical site complications increased
Injuries to organs around the area are serious because they usually involve the bladder or intestines. The more abdominal surgery someone has, the greater the risk for adhesions, scar tissue that can cause internal organs to stick together. This can make it difficult to operate in the area without causing collateral damage to organs nearby. If organ injury occurs, it can have lifelong consequences for the mother's urinary and/or G.I. system. Even if organ injury does not occur, adhesions alone can cause significant pain. For some people, it causes life-long severe pain. 

Obviously, the risk for major bleeding increases with surgery. Each successive surgery takes longer because of the scar tissue, and that increases the risk of hemorrhage even more. Some women need blood transfusions during or after the surgery. Many suffer problems with anemia, which can affect milk supply. Those with very severe hemorrhages may even experience Sheehan's Syndrome, life-long endocrinological problems because severe bleeding affected the pituitary gland. 

The risk for completely losing your uterus (hysterectomy) also increases with more cesareans. This is usually due to cases of accreta or in response to severe bleeding. The placenta cannot detach properly with accreta, or the uterus doesn't clamp down properly during surgery and the bleeding can't be stopped. Often the only way to keep the mother alive may be to take her uterus out, forever altering her fertility. . 

In addition, surgical site complications increase with each surgery. These can include infections, which can go septic and spread to the entire body. Although rare, some women die due to infections after cesareans. Others lose their uterus. Other surgical complications include seromas and hematomas (pockets of fluid or blood around the wound), and the surgical wound not healing (dehiscence). While these can be treated, they often cause long-term wounds and a painful recovery. They complicate recovery and make mothering difficult.

The Take Away Message

Sometimes when cesareans are questioned, people get all defensive. Mothers who had their babies by cesarean may feel like they are being judged or that some may think them less of a mother because of their cesarean. Doctors may feel defensive and point out the many times that cesareans have saved lives.

That's not what this is about. This is not about any one person's cesarean or a judgment about whether that cesarean was necessary or lifesaving. This is a public health issue about the overuse of cesareans and the potential consequences of that. The take away message here is:
All of the potential complications of cesareans need to be taken more seriously and cesareans used only when truly necessary. 
Cesareans are not evil. They can be a wonderful, life-saving intervention, and no one should feel like less of a mother because they had a cesarean. However, cesareans do carry risk. When overused or done without need, they can cause severe problems and even death, especially when multiple repeat cesareans are being done. 

National Public Radio has been running an excellent series on maternal mortality in pregnancy, as well as on near-misses (where the mother almost dies during or just after pregnancy), that highlights many of these complications: 
...according to the CDC, the rate at which women are suffering nearly fatal experiences in childbirth has risen faster than the rate at which they're dying. Based on the rate per 10,000 deliveries, serious complications more than doubled from 1993 to 2014, driven largely by a fivefold rise in blood transfusions. That also includes a nearly 60 percent rise in emergency hysterectomies — removal of the uterus and sometimes other reproductive organs, often to stem massive bleeding or infection. In 2014 alone, more than 4,000 women had emergency hysterectomies, rendering them permanently unable to carry a child. The rate of new mothers requiring breathing tubes increased by 75 percent, as did the rate of those treated for sepsis, a life-threatening inflammatory response to infection that can damage tissues and organs. 
"These numbers are really high, and far too many of them are preventable," said Dr. Elliott Main, medical director of the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative and a national leader in efforts to reduce maternal deaths and injuries...
...more than 135 expectant and new mothers a day — or roughly 50,000 a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — endure dangerous and even life-threatening complications that often leave them wounded, weakened, traumatized, financially devastated, unable to bear more children, or searching in vain for answers about what went wrong.
Although certainly not the only factor in the rising rate of complications, many of these near-death and fatal experiences begin with cesareans. The same NPR article noted:
Only about one-third of U.S. C-sections are medically justified, according to [Eugene]  DeClercq, the Boston University maternal health expert. A web of factors explains the rest, including hospital culture (C-section rates vary widely from one institution to the next); efforts to make childbirth more convenient (C-sections can be scheduled); and indirect financial incentives. Because C-sections normally take much less time than vaginal deliveries, they are more cost-effective for hospitals and providers. Additionally, several studies point to the influence of "defensive medicine," a term for doctors' fears of being blamed by their patients for not having done everything possible to avoid medical problems.
The culture of cesareans is strong in many hospitals, and as a result many unnecessary cesareans are being done. And once a woman has had a cesarean, she is often pressured into further cesareans by doctors who say Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC) is "too risky." But the fact is that multiple repeat cesareans are not risk-free either. Both VBAC and Repeat Cesarean have risks to mother and baby that must be carefully weighed. It should be up to the mother to decide which choice to pursue.

Research is clear that taken as a group, cesareans are not risk-free and should not be taken lightly or done routinely. 


Am J Perinatol. 2018 Oct 29. doi: 10.1055/s-0038-1673653. [Epub ahead of print] Risk of Maternal Morbidity with Increasing Number of Cesareans. Sondgeroth KE, Wan L, Rampersad RM, Stout MJ, Macones GA, Cahill AG, Tuuli MG. PMID: 30372778
OBJECTIVE: To estimate the risk of perioperative morbidity with increasing number of cesareans. STUDY DESIGN: We conducted a retrospective cohort study from 2004 to 2010. Patients delivered by cesarean were included. Outcome measures were a composite organ injury (bowel or bladder), hysterectomy, hemorrhage requiring transfusion, severe morbidity, or surgical site complications... RESULTS: Of the 15,872 women in the cohort, 5,144 had cesarean delivery: 3,113 primary, 1,310 one prior, 510 two prior, and 211 three or more prior cesareans. There was a significant increase in organ injury, hysterectomy, and surgical site complications with increasing number of cesareans. In multivariable analysis, the risk of organ injury and hysterectomy was increased compared with primary cesarean after two prior cesareans, and after three or more cesareans for hemorrhage requiring transfusion and surgical site complications. CONCLUSION: The risks of organ injury and hysterectomy are increased after two or more prior cesareans, and risks of hemorrhage and surgical site complications are increased after three or more cesareans.
Arch Gynecol Obstet. 2017 Feb;295(2):303-311. doi: 10.1007/s00404-016-4221-8. Epub 2016 Oct 21. Incidence of adhesions and maternal and neonatal morbidity after repeat cesarean section. Arlier S, Seyfettinoğlu S, Yilmaz E, Nazik H, Adıgüzel C, Eskimez E, Hürriyetoğlu Ş, Yücel O. PMID: 27770246
PURPOSE OF INVESTIGATION: We investigated the effect of repeat cesarean sections (CSs) and intra-abdominal adhesions on neonatal and maternal morbidity. MATERIALS AND METHODS: We  analyzed intra-abdominal adhesions of 672 patients. RESULTS: Among the patients, 173, 206, 151, and 142 underwent CS for the first, second, third, and fourth time or more, respectively. There were adhesions in 393 (58.5 %) patients. Among first CSs, there were no adhesions, the rate of maternal morbidity [Morales et al. (Am J Obstet Gynecol 196(5):461, 2007)] was 26 %, and the rate of neonatal morbidity (NM) was 35 %. Among women who have history of two CSs, the adhesion rate was 66.3 %, the adhesion score was 2.05, MM was 14 %, and NM was 21 %. Among third CSs, these values were 82.1, 2.82, 23, and 14 %, respectively. Among women who have history of four or more CSs, these values were 92.2, 4.72, 31.7, and 18 %, respectively. Adhesion sites and dense fibrous adhesions increased parallel to the number of subsequent CSs. Increased adhesion score was associated with 1.175-fold higher odds of NM and 1.29-fold higher odds of MM. The rate of NM was eightfold higher in emergency-delivered newborns (emergency: 39.4, 40 %; elective: 4.9 %). MM was 20 and 26 % for elective and emergency CSs, respectively. CONCLUSIONS: Emergency operations and adhesions increased complications.