Iron status in pregnant women: which measurements are valid?


Dr van den Broek Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Wellcome Trust Centre for Tropical Research, P.O. Box 30096, Blantyre 3, Malawi.


Anaemia in pregnancy in developing countries continues to be a public health problem of significant proportion. At least 50% of the anaemia has been blamed on iron deficiency. In populations where chronic inflammation and iron deficiency anaemia coexist, the criteria to accurately define iron status are not always clear. Similarly, in pregnancy, with marked physiological changes, cut-off points for biochemical parameters need to be re-examined. In this study we examined the diagnostic accuracy of iron parameters including mean cellular volume (MCV), serum iron, transferrin, total iron binding capacity (TIBC) and its saturation, zinc protoporphyrin (ZPP), ferritin and serum transferrin receptor (TfR) for the assessment of iron status in a population of anaemic pregnant women in Malawi. Stained bone marrow aspirates were used as the standard for comparison.

Results show that for the purpose of screening, serum ferritin is the best single indicator of storage iron provided a cut-off point of 30 μg/l is used. A number of other commonly used parameters of iron status were shown to have limited diagnostic accuracy. Logistic regression was used to obtain mathematical models for the prediction of bone marrow iron status using a combination of available parameters.