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Iron deficiency anemia is common in pregnancy with a prevalence of approximately 16% in Austria; however, international guideline recommendations on screening and subsequent treatment with iron preparations are inconsistent. The aim of this study was to find out how often pregnant women take iron-containing supplements, and who recommended them. As hemoglobin data were available for a sub-group of women, hemoglobin status during pregnancy and associated consumption of iron-containing medications were also recorded.
This cross-sectional study was conducted at the Mother-Child-Booklet service center of the Styrian Health Insurance Fund in Graz, Austria. A questionnaire containing seven questions was developed. Absolute and relative numbers were determined, and corresponding 95% confidence intervals calculated using bootstrapping techniques.
A total of 325 women completed the questionnaire, 11% had been diagnosed with anemia before becoming pregnant, 67% reported taking iron-containing compounds. The women reported taking 45 different products but 61% took 1 of 3 different supplements. Overall, 185 (57%) women had not been diagnosed with anemia before becoming pregnant but reported taking an iron-containing supplement and 89% of the women took supplements on the recommendation of their physician. Of the 202 women whose hemoglobin status was assessed, 92% were found not to be anemic.
Overall, 67% of pregnant women took iron-containing compounds, irrespective of whether they were deficient in iron. Physicians were generally responsible for advising them to take them. No standardized procedure is available on which to base the decision whether to take iron during pregnancy, even in guidelines. As most guidelines only recommend taking iron supplements in cases of anemia, the high percentage of women taking them in Austria is incomprehensible.