The incidence of megaloblastic anaemia in pregnancy and the puerperium in north Staffordshire has steadily declined as a result of prophylaxis with folic acid. In the presence of advanced folic acid deficiency and with a florid megaloblastic marrow, the anaemia is usually severe, but in many patients the disease is relatively mild and the degree of anaemia is determined more by blood loss or associated iron deficiency than by the megaloblastosis.
Microscopic examination of marrow films is still the most reliable method of diagnosis, although estimation of the labile serum folate has produced a 95% correlation with the marrow findings.
There are three main factors which operate in the pathogenesis of megaloblastic anaemia in pregnancy and the puerperium. First, the maternal stores of folic acid are used up by the growing foetus, and this process is accelerated in multiple pregnancies, after haemorrhage, or in women with haemolytic anaemia. Secondly, an insufficient intake of folic acid, due to poor diet in pregnancy, plays a part in many cases. The third, and possibly the most important, factor is an absorption defect. Folic acid absorption is usually impaired in established cases, and this can still be demonstrated years later in a majority of patients, when they are neither pregnant nor anaemic. More than 20% of all cases also show abnormal fat absorption.
An inherited defect in folic acid absorption may also explain why certain women appear to be constitutionally predisposed to megaloblastic anaemia of pregnancy and the puerperium, as shown by the abnormal blood group distribution in these patients and by the tendency of megaloblastic anaemia to recur not only in subsequent pregnancies, but, as in six of our cases, following other kinds of stress.
The significance of commonly associated conditions like pre-eclampsia and infection is still incompletely understood. Although the treatment of megaloblastic anaemia is simple and effective, the main emphasis should be placed on prophylaxis by administering folic acid to all pregnant women.
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