Anaemia in Pregnant African Women: Diagnosis and Treatment



Diagnosis of anaemia in pregnancy


A blood test called a complete blood count (CBC) is done to determine whether a person has anaemia. The level of iron, folate and vitamin B12 may be analyzed during this test. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines (mild to moderate) anaemia as haemoglobin (Hb) concentration less than 11.0g/dl among pregnant women. Severe anaemia is diagnosed if the naemoglobin level is 6.5 to 7.9g/dl (grams per deciliter). [11]


Complications of severe anaemia in pregnancy


In the pregnant mother:

Severe anaemia in pregnancy is associated with poor maternal outcomes such as:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Bleeding after childbirth
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart failure
  • Premature separation of the placenta


In the unborn baby, anaemia in pregnancy may cause the following: [12]

  • Premature birth
  • Restricted growth during development
  • Low birth weight
  • Abortion
  • Death in the womb if left untreated


Treatments of anaemia in pregnant African women


The treatment recommended for a pregnant woman with anaemia depends on a number of factors such as the cause and the severity. They include:


  • Blood transfusion


The option for blood transfusion is taken if the pregnant woman is severely anaemic, and needs to be within the safe range as soon as possible. Transfusions have the ability to quickly replenish red blood cells and enhance their oxygen carrying capacity. This averts the complications that could arise due to severe anaemia for the mother and unborn child. [13]


  • Iron and folic acid supplements


The World Health Organization recommends that pregnant women take a supplement containing 30 to 60 mg of iron and 400 mcg of folic acid daily. The higher dose of 60 mg of iron supplement is preferred for pregnant women who live in areas where severe anaemia is a serious public health concern. To enhance the absorption of iron into the body, it can be taken with vitamin C. [14]


  • Dietary modifications


It is important that pregnant women eat food rich in iron, folic acid and vitamin B12. Some examples of foods that are rich in these nutrients include: poultry, fish, lean red meat, beans, nuts, dark leafy greens, fortified cereals, eggs, fruits like banana and melon. [15]


  • Anti-malaria (when applicable)


For a pregnant African woman whose anaemia is as a result of malaria, there is a need to appropriately treat malaria first. Failure to do so makes other treatment futile.


Prevention of anaemia in pregnant African women


To avoid coming down with anaemia during pregnancy, African women need to eat nutritious diets high in folate, iron and vitamin B12. It is also important to supplement diet with a daily intake of iron and folic acid tablets.




In a nutshell, moderate to severe anaemia is common among pregnant African women. The commonest cause is iron deficiency. Other contributory causes include poor or inadequate nutrition, blood loss (especially pre-pregnancy and menstruation related), infections (e.g. malaria and hookworm), and genetics. Treatment usually depends on the underlying cause and severity. To prevent anaemia during pregnancy, African women are advised to maintain a healthy lifestyle, take intermittent malaria prophylaxis, and consume foods rich in folate, iron, and vitamin B12, such as eggs, leafy greens, lean red meat, fruits, fish, and beans, along with supplements.



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3. World Health Organization. WHO Global Database on Anaemia. Worldwide Prevalence of Anaemia 1993-2005. Edited by: De Benoist, B., McLean, E., Egli, I. and Cogswell, M. (2008) . Cited June 12, 2024. Available from here.

4. Healthdirect Australia. Iron deficiency. [Internet. Last reviewed May 2023]. Cited June 12, 2024. Available from here.

5. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Folate-Deficiency anaemia. [Internet, n.d.]. Cited June 12, 2024. Available from here.

6. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia. [Internet, n.d.]. Cited June 12, 2024. Available from here.

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9. Jain D, Atmapoojya P, Colah R, Lodha P. Sickle Cell Disease and Pregnancy. Mediterr J Hematol Infect Dis. 2019 Jul 1;11(1):e2019040. doi: 10.4084/MJHID.2019.040. Available from here.

10. American Society of Hematology. Anaemia and Pregnancy, [Internet, n.d.]. Cited June 19, 2024. Available from here.

11. Cleveland Clinic. Anaemia during pregnancy. [Internet, Last reviewed 2022 May 26]. Cited June 12 2024. Available from here.

12. Youssry MA, Radwam AM, Gebreel MA, Patel TA. Prevalence of maternal anaemia in pregnancy: The effect of maternal naemoglobin level on pregnancy and neonatal outcome. Open Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Vol. 8 No. 7, 2018. Available from here

13. Obeagu E, Obeagu G. The Vital Role of Blood Transfusions during Pregnancy: A Comprehensive Review. Asian Journal of Dental and Health Sciences.2024.  4. 26-31. 10.22270/ajdhs.v4i1.58. Available from here.

14. World Health Organization. (WHO). Antenatal iron supplementation. [Internet, n.d.]. Cited June 12, 2024. Available from here.

15. Timmons, J. Anaemia in pregnancy: What it is and how to prevent it. Healthline. [Internet. 2013 April 13]. Cited June 12, 2024. Available from here.


Related: 6 Conditions that Put Pregnant African Women at Risk of Death


 ←  Causes and Symptoms



Published: June 20, 2024

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