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Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine (CCLM)

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In This Section
Volume 49, Issue 7 (Jul 2011)


Laboratory assessment of iron status in pregnancy

Thomas Walsh
  • Rotunda Hospital, Dublin, Ireland
/ Sean D. O'Broin
  • Department of Haematology, St James's Hospital, Dublin, Ireland
  • Email:
/ Sharon Cooley
  • Rotunda Hospital, Dublin, Ireland
/ Jennifer Donnelly
  • Rotunda Hospital, Dublin, Ireland
/ John Kennedy
  • Rotunda Hospital, Dublin, Ireland
/ Robert F. Harrison
  • Rotunda Hospital, Dublin, Ireland
/ Corinna McMahon
  • Department of Haematology, St James's Hospital, Dublin, Ireland
/ Michael Geary
  • Rotunda Hospital, Dublin, Ireland
Published Online: 2011-06-01 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/CCLM.2011.187


Background: Efforts to improve maternal nutrition during pregnancy prompted an observational study of the occurrence of maternal iron deficiency and its laboratory diagnosis in almost 500 pregnancies.

Methods: In this longitudinal study, the biochemical and haematological iron indices of women (n=492) attending a prenatal clinic in a Dublin maternity hospital were assessed at first booking (mean 15.9 weeks), and after 24 weeks, and 36 weeks of gestation. Full blood counts were measured. Serum ferritin (SF), zinc protoporphyrin (ZPP), and transferrin receptor (sTfR) concentrations were assayed and transferrin receptor index (sTfR-Index) was calculated. The occurrence of low values and their diagnostic values were considered.

Results: A high occurrence iron deficiency (ID) at first booking (SF<12 μg/L) had increased over six-fold by 24 weeks, and all biochemical iron indices reflected progressive iron depletion right up to term. The WHO recommended anaemia “cut-off” (Hb<110 g/L) was insensitive to biochemical iron deficiency at booking, missing over 90% of the low SF values (SF<12 μg/L) which were mostly associated with much higher Hb levels.

Conclusions: This study stresses the importance of including a biochemical index of iron status in prenatal screening and supports SF as the best indicator of biochemical ID overall. sTfR was insensitive to iron deficiency in early pregnancy, whereas the sTfR-Index, as a ratio, has the potential to distinguish between ID and physiological anaemia, and may offer stability in the assessment of iron stores from early pregnancy to full term. A policy of early screening of both Hb and SF concentrations is recommended as the minimum requirement for surveillance of maternal iron status in pregnancy.

Keywords: iron status; pregnancy; serum ferritin; transferrin receptor

About the article

Corresponding author: Sean D. O'Broin, Department of Haematology, St James's Hospital, Dublin 8, Ireland Phone: +353-1-4162950

Received: 2010-10-07

Accepted: 2011-02-17

Published Online: 2011-06-01

Published in Print: 2011-07-01

Citation Information: Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine, ISSN (Online) 1437-4331, ISSN (Print) 1434-6621, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/CCLM.2011.187. Export Citation

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