Intermittent oral iron supplementation during pregnancy

RHL summary

18 November 2013
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Findings of the review: To prevent anemia during pregnancy, daily iron supplementation is frequently used, but adverse effects are associated with this regimen. This review included 21 trials (18 of them contributed data on 4072 women) comparing intermittent with daily iron administration. Methodological quality of the trials was mixed and many of the infant and maternal primary outcomes were not reported. The results suggest that, compared with daily iron supplementation, administration of an intermittent regimen has no significant difference in preterm birth, birth weight (and low birth weight) and maternal anaemia at term and maternal iron deficiency anaemia. However, the intermittent regimen was associated with fewer side-effects and lower haemoglobin concentrations throughout pregnancy.
Implementation: Intermittent iron supplementation could be used in pregnant women considered at low risk of anaemia and in those with discontinuation of iron treatment due to side-effects. Doses and optimal interval between doses remains to be determined.


Cochrane review

Citation: Peña-Rosas JP, De-Regil LM, Dowswell T, Viteri FE. Intermitte nt oral iron supplementation during pregnancy. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 7. Art. No.: CD009997. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.C D009997.

Abstract

Background

Anaemia is a frequent condition during pregnancy, particularly among women from developing countries who have insufficient iron intake to meet increased iron needs of both the mother and the fetus.Traditionally, gestational anaemia has been prevented with the provision of daily iron supplements throughout pregnancy, but adherence to this regimen due to side effects, interrupted supply of the supplements, and concerns about safety among women with an adequate iron intake, have limited the use of this intervention. Intermittent (i.e. one, two or three times a week on non-consecutive days) supplementation with iron alone or in combination with folic acid or other vitamins and minerals has recently been proposed as an alternative to daily supplementation.

Objectives

To assess the benefits and harms of intermittent supplementation with iron alone or in combination with folic acid or other vitamins and minerals to pregnant women on neonatal and pregnancy outcomes.

Search methods

We searched the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group's Trials Register (23 March 2012). We also searched the WHO International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP) for ongoing studies and contacted relevant organisations for the identification of ongoing and unpublished studies (23 March 2012).

Selection criteria

Randomised or quasi-randomised trials.

Data collection and analysis

We assessed the methodological quality of trials using standard Cochrane criteria. Two review authors independently assessed trial eligibility, extracted data and conducted checks for accuracy.

Main results

This review includes 21 trials from 13 different countries, but only 18 trials (with 4072 women) reported on our outcomes of interest and contributed data to the review. All of these studies compared daily versus intermittent iron supplementation.

Three studies provided iron alone, 12 iron+folic acid and three more iron plus multiple vitamins and minerals. Their methodological quality was mixed and most had high levels of attrition. Overall, there was no clear evidence of differences between groups for infant primary outcomes: low birthweight (average risk ratio (RR) 0.96; 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.61 to 1.52, seven studies), infant birthweight (mean difference MD -8.62 g; 95% CI -52.76 g to 35.52 g, eight studies), premature birth (average RR 1.82; 95% CI 0.75 to 4.40, four studies). None of the studies reported neonatal deaths or congenital anomalies.

For maternal outcomes, there was no clear evidence of differences between groups for anaemia at term (average RR 1.22; 95% CI 0.84 to 1.80, four studies) and women receiving intermittent supplementation had less side effects (average RR 0.56; 95% CI 0.37 to 0.84, 11 studies) than those receiving daily supplements. Women receiving intermittent supplements were also at lower risk of having high haemoglobin (Hb) concentrations (greater than 130 g/L) during the second or third trimester of pregnancy (average RR 0.48; 95% CI 0.35 to 0.67, 13 studies). There were no significant differences in iron-deficiency anaemia between women receiving intermittent or daily iron+folic acid supplementation (average RR 0.71; 95% CI 0.08 to 6.63, 1 study). There were no maternal deaths (six studies) or women with severe anaemia in pregnancy (six studies). None of the studies reported on iron deficiency at term or infections during pregnancy.

Where sufficient data were available for primary outcomes, we set up subgroups to look for possible differences between studies in terms of earlier or later supplementation; women's anaemia status at the start of supplementation; higher and lower weekly doses of iron; and the malarial status of the region in which the trials were conducted. There was no clear effect of these variables on the results of the review.

Authors' conclusions

The present systematic review is the most comprehensive summary of the evidence assessing the benefits and harms of intermittent iron supplementation regimens in pregnant women on haematological and pregnancy outcomes. The findings suggest that intermittent iron+folic acid regimens produce similar maternal and infant outcomes at birth as daily supplementation but are associated with fewer side effects. Women receiving daily supplements had increased risk of developing high levels of Hb in mid and late pregnancy but were less likely to present mild anaemia near term. Although the evidence is limited and the quality of the trials was low or very low, intermittent may be a feasible alternative to daily iron supplementation among those pregnant women who are not anaemic and have adequate antenatal care.

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