Pregnancy problems leading cause of death for teenaged girls and young women worldwide, study finds

Unsafe abortions, haemorrhages during pregnancy and obstructed labour are part of the leading cause of death globally among girls and women aged 15 to 19, the World Health Organisation has found

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 May, 2017, 7:00pm
UPDATED : Friday, 19 May, 2017, 11:24am

Pregnancy complications are the leading cause of death globally among females aged 15 to 19, with self-harm in second place, a global study has found.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) report also found more than 1.2 million female and male adolescents die each year– the majority from preventable causes including mental health issues, poor nutrition, reproductive health problems and violence. The authors said that too often adolescent health was overlooked, and that failing to tackle the health of 10- to 19-year-olds could undermine the improvements achieved in maternal and child health worldwide.

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“By investing in adolescent health, you actually get a triple benefit because you get a healthier adolescent now, that healthier adolescent becomes a healthier, more productive adult in the near future, and also for those who have children, they become a more healthy parent,” said the lead author of the study, David Ross.

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The WHO surveyed the causes of death for 10- to 19-year-olds in 2015. It found that the leading cause, globally, was road injuries, which caused 115,300 such deaths. The next biggest killers were lower respiratory infections such as pneumonia, self-harm, diarrhoeal diseases, and drowning. However, there were considerable differences when the results were compartmentalised by sex and age.

The biggest problems for females aged 15 to 19 were maternal conditions including haemorrhage, complications from unsafe abortion and obstructed labour. These occurrences led to 10 deaths for every 100,000 individuals. For girls aged 10 to 14, the leading cause of death was lower respiratory infections. For boys in both age groups, the leading cause of death was injury from road accidents, with drowning the second leading cause for the younger age group and violence in second place for boys aged 15 to 19.

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For both male and female adolescents, self-harm was in the top five causes of death, resulting overall in 5.6 adolescent deaths per 100,000 individuals. The authors noted that 45 per cent of adolescent deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries in Africa and 26 per cent in similar countries in southeast Asia.

Contracting the flu raises risk of heart attack, researchers find

Coming down with the flu, bronchitis or pneumonia can dramatically raise the risk of a heart attack – up to 17-fold – in the days and weeks following the infection, researchers have found. The findings confirm earlier research conducted by scientists at the University of Sydney, that pointed to an apparent link between respiratory infection and cardiac crises.

“A respiratory infection can act as a trigger for a heart attack,” said senior author Professor Geoffrey Tofler. “The data showed that the increased risk of a heart attack isn’t necessarily just at the beginning of respiratory symptoms, it peaks in the first seven days and gradually reduces but remains elevated for one month.”

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The study, published in the Internal Medicine Journal, was based on 578 patients who suffered a heart attack due to a coronary artery blockage. Patients were asked about their activities before having a heart attack, including if they experienced a recent “flu-like illness with fever and sore throat”, or if they had been diagnosed with pneumonia or bronchitis, said the report. Seventeen per cent of patients reported symptoms of respiratory infection within one week of the heart attack, and 21 per cent within 31 days.

“Possible reasons for why respiratory infection may trigger a heart attack include an increased tendency towards blood clotting, inflammation and toxins damaging blood vessels, and changes in blood flow,” said Tofler. “Our message to people is while the absolute risk that any one episode will trigger a heart attack is low, they need to be aware that a respiratory infection could lead to a coronary event,” he added.

Proof that dogs act as stress relievers for children

Having a pet dog can offer valuable social support to children when they are stressed, according to new research. Carried out by the University of Florida, the randomised controlled study tested the common belief that pet dogs provide social support for children.

“Many people think pet dogs are great for kids but scientists aren’t sure if that’s true or how it happens,” explained one of the study’s authors, Darlene Kertes.

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For their study the team looked at 101 children aged seven to 12 who all had a pet dog. To look at the children’s stress, the researchers asked participants to complete a public speaking task and mental arithmetic task, both of which simulate real-life stress in children’s lives and are known to evoke feelings of anxiety and raise the stress hormone cortisol. To measure the levels of cortisol, samples of saliva were collected before and after the stressful experience. The children were also randomly assigned to one of three groups, and either had to complete the stressful tasks with their dog present for social support, with their parent present, or with no social support at all.

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The results showed that children who completed the stressful tasks with their pet dog had lower levels of cortisol and reported a lower level of stress compared to those who completed the task with a parent or who had no social support at all. However, the level of cortisol also depended on how the child and the dog interacted.

“Children who actively solicited their dogs to come and be pet or stroked had lower cortisol levels compared to children who engaged their dogs less,” said Kertes. “When dogs hovered around or approached children on their own, however, children’s cortisol tended to be higher.”