Patient Care

The Increasing Presence of Pregnant Patients in Hospital Medicine


Twenty years ago, pregnant women rarely appeared in the hospital for reasons other than delivery. Two trends responsible for that shift are advanced maternal age and rising rates of obesity, defined as a body mass index of >30.

The birth rate for women ages 35-44 has continued to rise, and that has brought new challenges to treating pregnancy, many of which result in hospital visits.1

OB/GYN hospitalist Robert Olson, MD, SFHM, has witnessed the winds of change firsthand. “Older patients are more likely to have medical conditions such as hypertension and diabetes, as well as the unusual medical problems such as status post heart attack, status post heart transplant, status post chemotherapy for cancer, as well as being on medications for chronic disease,” says Dr. Olson, who practices in Bellingham, Wash., and is the founding president of the Society of OB/GYN Hospitalists.

According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, more than one third of U.S. women are obese and more than half of all pregnant women are overweight or obese and therefore prone to complications that send them to the hospital, including gestational diabetes, hypertension, and preeclampsia.3

As an inpatient, obese pregnant women present their own challenges, including increased risk of thromboembolism. When treating this type of patient, remember pneumatic compression devices are recommended if the patient will be immobile for any length of time.4

Click here to listen to Dr. Carolyn Zelop discuss cardiovascular emergencies in pregnant patients.

Clinicians might also have significant difficulty intubating the overweight mother-to-be. Whether for cesarean section, other surgical procedures, or an acute medical crisis, physicians must approach intubation with caution as a result of excessive adipose tissue, obscured landmarks, difficulty positioning, and edema, as well as progesterone-induced relaxation of the sphincter between the esophagus and stomach.5 It is vital to make use of your most experienced staff when intubating this special needs patient. TH

Maybelle Cowan-Lincoln is a freelance writer in New Jersey.


  1. Martin JA, Hamilton BE, Ventura SJ, et al. National Vital Statistics Reports: Volume 62, Number 1. June 28, 2013. Available at: Accessed October 6, 2014.
  2. Olson, Robert. Founding president, Society of OB/GYN Hospitalists; OB/GYN hospitalist, PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center, Bellingham, Wash. E-mail interview. November 13, 2013.
  3. Leddy MA, Power ML, Schulkin J. The impact of maternal obesity on maternal and fetal health. Rev Obstet Gynecol. 2008;1(4):170-178.
  4. ACOG committee opinion number 549. Obstet Gynecol. 2013;121(1):213-217.
  5. Zelop, Carolyn M. Director, perinatal ultrasound and research, Valley Hospital, Ridgewood, N.J. Telephone interview. October 30, 2013.

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