Date Published: 
Friday, 24 May, 2013

Iron deficiency in obstetrics and gynaecology

Iron deficiency is a clinically significant nutritional disorder that disproportionately affects women compared with men, and is particularly common in women of reproductive age1. Iron deficiency is also frequently associated with pregnancy where it can have implications for the health of both the mother and child1,2.

Iron deficiency is estimated to occur in approximately 9–15% of females aged 12–49 years in developed countries; the rate drops to 5% in women aged 50–69 years before increasing again in older women (see figure below)3,4.

The risk of iron deficiency is substantially increased by pregnancy and rises over the duration of the pregnancy. In the US, the rate of iron deficiency in pregnant women in their first, second and third trimester of pregnancy has been reported to be 7, 14 and 30%, respectively2.

Figure 1. Prevalence of iron deficiency in women across their lifespan4

Iron deficiency is associated with serious health disorders including fatigue, cognitive impairment and tachycardia, and iron supplementation provides significant benefits in iron-deficient patients with these conditions (see ‘How does iron deficiency affect clinical outcome in obstetric and gynaecological patients' section)5. Iron is an essential nutrient for foetal brain development and studies show that low maternal iron status at delivery is associated with persistent negative effects on children’s cognitive function, concentration and memory that are evident at age 3.5 years5,6.​