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Trends in the Use of Episiotomy in the United States: 1980–1998

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Background: Despite a relative paucity of clinical evidence justifying its routine use, approximately 40 percent of all vaginal deliveries include an episiotomy. The purpose of this study is to examine trends in episiotomy in the United States from 1980 through 1998, a period during which calls increased to abandon routine episiotomy. Methods: Data were obtained from the National Hospital Discharge Survey, which is conducted annually and based on a nationally representative sample of discharges from short-stay non-Federal hospitals. Results: From 1980 through 1998 the episiotomy rate in the United States dropped by 39 percent. Rates decreased for all age and racial groups investigated, in all four geographic regions, and for all sources of payment. Significant differences remained between groups in 1998, including a higher rate for white women than for black women, and a higher rate for women with private insurance than for women with Medicaid or in the self-pay category. The incidence of first- and second-degree lacerations to the perineum increased for women without episiotomies, but the more severe third- and fourth-degree lacerations remained more frequent for women with episiotomies. Women with episiotomies were more likely to have forceps-assisted deliveries or vacuum extractions. Conclusions: Despite dramatic declines in the use of episiotomy during the last two decades, it remains one of the most frequent surgical procedures performed on women in the United States, and it continues to be performed at a higher rate for certain groups of women. (BIRTH 28:3 September 2001)

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: September 1, 2001


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