Researchers suggest women with hearing loss are at greater risk of having preterm or low-birth-weight babies.
Lead investigator Dr. Monika Mitra, Ph.D., of the Lurie Institute for Disability Policy at Brandeis University in Waltham, MA, and colleagues note that many individuals with hearing loss have other health issues, largely because hearing problems reduce beneficial exposure to media, healthcare messages, health communication, and learning opportunities.
What is more, Dr. Mitra and team say healthcare providers rarely receive training on the best way to communicate with patients who have hearing loss, which can make it hard for clinicians to provide optimal care.
Among expectant mothers, research has shown that women with hearing loss are less satisfied with their prenatal care and have fewer prenatal visits than those without hearing loss.
However, the authors say there have been no population-based studies exploring how hearing loss may influence birth outcomes for pregnant women - until now.
Worse birth outcomes for pregnant women with hearing loss
For their study, the researchers analyzed data from the 2008-2011 Nationwide Inpatient Sample of the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP).
Of the almost 18 million deliveries that occurred over the 4-year period, the team identified around 10,500 that occurred among young women with hearing loss.
Birth outcomes - including preterm birth and low birth weight - were compared between women with and without hearing loss, and the researchers also looked at the women's insurance coverage and presence of other medical conditions.
Compared with women who did not have hearing loss, those who did were at greater risk of giving birth prematurely and having a low-birth-weight baby, the team found.
Additionally, the analysis revealed women with hearing loss were less likely to have private insurance than those without hearing loss.
Medicare paid for more than 13 percent of births among women with hearing loss, compared with only 0.6 percent of births among women without hearing loss. Delivery-related hospitalizations among women with hearing loss were most commonly paid for by Medicare and Medicaid.
In terms of health issues, the researchers found that women with hearing loss were almost twice as likely to have at least two co-existing health conditions than women without hearing loss, and they were also more likely to be admitted to urban teaching hospitals.
New framework could identify risk factors for poor birth outcomes
Dr. Mitra and colleagues believe their findings highlight the importance of understanding the causes of poorer birth outcomes among women with hearing loss, and they say there needs to be more focus on addressing these issues.
On that note, the researchers say they have developed a perinatal health framework that has pinpointed a number of individual and mediating risk factors for poor birth outcomes among women with physical disabilities, which could be adapted to identify such factors among women with hearing loss.
"Mediating factors, for example, include provider knowledge and attitudes toward pregnancy, family support, and psychosocial factors such as stressful life events. Although these factors are not identifiable in the HCUP data, this framework may be also applicable to women with hearing loss," explains Dr. Mitra.
"Given the earlier studies on patient-provider communication, potential biological factors, interpersonal violence, and health knowledge and health literacy among people with hearing loss, and the general dissatisfaction of people with hearing loss with their healthcare, these factors could potentially explain the poor birth outcomes found in this study."
Dr. Monika Mitra, Ph.D.