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University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center
Publish Date: 04/21/00
Media Contact: AHC Public Relations, (513) 558-4553
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Study Examines Risk Factors for Falls During Pregnancy

Cincinnati--A team of investigators led by Grace Lemasters, PhD, and Amit Bhattacharya, PhD, professors of environmental health at the University of Cincinnati (UC), the Hamilton County General Health District, and the Cincinnati Health Department is conducting a study to determine risk factors related to falls in pregnant women--both at home and in the workplace. The study will provide recommendations for an intervention program to decrease the incidence of falls in this high-risk group. Preliminary findings from a recent study conducted by the team at UC indicated falls were relatively common, occurring in about one in five pregnancies.

Although falls are common during pregnancy, little is known about the risk factors, and virtually nothing is known about pregnant employees falling in the workplace. "Many work and home factors are being examined including slippery floors, poor lighting, and shoes with high heels or slick soles," says Lemasters. "Once we understand what causes falls during pregnancy, we can design intervention programs to decrease injury during pregnancy for all pregnant women particularly those in high-risk work environments."

Physiological changes during pregnancy substantially increase the risk of fall and injury. The protruding abdomen and loosening of pelvic ligaments cause a woman's center of gravity to shift and results in progressive lordosis of the spine. These changes cause a woman to continually readjust her body alignment and balance, which result in a risk for falls and injury.

Research studies report that falls account for 17 to 39 percent of all traumatic injuries to pregnant women. Trauma during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of spontaneous abortion, pre-term labor, placental abruption, feto-maternal transfusion, and still birth. Even minor forces may be sufficient to shear the placental attachments and placental abruption after blunt abdominal trauma.

This study will include a survey of women who recently gave birth in the city of Cincinnati and Hamilton County over approximately a six-month period. Over 3,000 women will complete a survey administered by mail or phone. A birth certificate database system will be used to determine participants' eligibility.

The study is funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and is likely to have a major impact in public health by preventing falls during pregnancy at home and in the workplace.

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