Objective: To provide information regarding the use of folic acid in combination with a multivitamin supplement for the prevention of neural tube defects and other congenital anomalies, so that physicians, midwives, nurses, and other health care workers can assist in the education of women in the pre-conception phase of their health care. OPTION: Supplementation with folic acid and vitamins is problematic, since 50% of pregnancies are unplanned, and women's health status may not be optimal when they conceive.
Outcomes: Folic acid in combination with a multivitamin supplement has been associated with a decrease in specific birth defects.
Evidence: Medline, PubMed, and Cochrane Database were searched for relevant English language articles published between 1985 and 2007. The previous Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC) Policy Statement of November 1993 and statements from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Canadian College of Medical Geneticists were also reviewed in developing this clinical practice guideline.
Values: The quality of evidence was rated using the criteria described in the Report of the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care.
Benefits, harms, and costs: Promoting the use of folic acid and a multivitamin supplement among women of reproductive age will reduce the incidence of birth defects. The costs are those of daily vitamin supplementation and eating a healthy diet.
Recommendations: 1. Women in the reproductive age group should be advised about the benefits of folic acid in addition to a multivitamin supplement during wellness visits (birth control renewal, Pap testing, yearly examination) especially if pregnancy is contemplated. (III-A) 2. Women should be advised to maintain a healthy diet, as recommended in Eating Well With Canada's Food Guide (Health Canada). Foods containing excellent to good sources of folic acid are fortified grains, spinach, lentils, chick peas, asparagus, broccoli, peas, Brussels sprouts, corn, and oranges. However, it is unlikely that diet alone can provide levels similar to folate-multivitamin supplementation. (III-A) 3. Women taking a multivitamin containing folic acid should be advised not to take more than one daily dose of vitamin supplement, as indicated on the product label. (II-2-A) 4. Folic acid and multivitamin supplements should be widely available without financial or other barriers for women planning pregnancy to ensure the extra level of supplementation. (III-B) 5. Folic acid 5 mg supplementation will not mask vitamin B12 deficiency (pernicious anemia), and investigations (examination or laboratory) are not required prior to initiating supplementation. (II-2-A) 6. The recommended strategy to prevent recurrence of a congenital anomaly (anencephaly, myelomeningocele, meningocele, oral facial cleft, structural heart disease, limb defect, urinary tract anomaly, hydrocephalus) that has been reported to have a decreased incidence following preconception / first trimester folic acid +/- multivitamin oral supplementation is planned pregnancy +/- supplementation compliance. A folate-supplemented diet with additional daily supplementation of multivitamins with 5 mg folic acid should begin at least three months before conception and continue until 10 to 12 weeks post conception. From 12 weeks post-conception and continuing throughout pregnancy and the postpartum period (4-6 weeks or as long as breastfeeding continues), supplementation should consist of a multivitamin with folic acid (0.4-1.0 mg). (I-A) 7. The recommended strategy(ies) for primary prevention or to decrease the incidence of fetal congenital anomalies will include a number of options or treatment approaches depending on patient age, ethnicity, compliance, and genetic congenital anomaly risk status. OPTION A: Patients with no personal health risks, planned pregnancy, and good compliance require a good diet of folate-rich foods and daily supplementation with a multivitamin with folic acid (0.4-1.0 mg) for at least two to three months before conception and throughout pregnancy and the postpartum period (4-6 weeks and as long as breastfeeding continues). (II-2-A) OPTION B: Patients with health risks, including epilepsy, insulin dependent diabetes, obesity with BMI >35 kg/m2, family history of neural tube defect, belonging to a high-risk ethnic group (e.g., Sikh) require increased dietary intake of folate-rich foods and daily supplementation, with multivitamins with 5 mg folic acid, beginning at least three months before conception and continuing until 10 to 12 weeks post conception. From 12 weeks post-conception and continuing throughout pregnancy and the postpartum period (4-6 weeks or as long as breastfeeding continues), supplementation should consist of a multivitamin with folic acid (0.4-1.0 mg). (II-2-A) OPTION C: Patients who have a history of poor compliance with medications and additional lifestyle issues of variable diet, no consistent birth control, and possible teratogenic substance use (alcohol, tobacco, recreational non-prescription drugs) require counselling about the prevention of birth defects and health problems with folic acid and multivitamin supplementation. The higher dose folic acid strategy (5 mg) with multivitamin should be used, as it may obtain a more adequate serum red blood cell folate level with irregular vitamin / folic acid intake but with a minimal additional health risk. (III-B) 8. The Canadian Federal Government could consider an evaluation process for the benefit/risk of increasing the level of national folic acid flour fortification to 300 mg/100 g (present level 140 mg/100 g). (III-B) 9. The Canadian Federal Government could consider an evaluation process for the benefit/risk of additional flour fortification with multivitamins other than folic acid. (III-B) 10. The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada will explore the possibility of a Canadian Consensus conference on the use of folic acid and multivitamins for the primary prevention of specific congenital anomalies. The conference would include Health Canada/Congenital Anomalies Surveillance, Canadian College of Medical Geneticists, Canadian Paediatric Society, Motherisk, and pharmaceutical industry representatives.
Validation: This is a revision of a previous guideline and information from other consensus reviews from medical and government publications has been used.
Sponsor: The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada.