Prevalence and Utility of Low Mean Corpuscular Volume in Infants Admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

J Pediatr. 2020 Dec;227:108-113.e2. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2020.07.056. Epub 2020 Jul 21.


Objective: To determine the prevalence of low mean corpuscular volume (MCV) in newborn infants admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit and to assess low MCV as a diagnostic test for alpha thalassemia.

Study design: Retrospective analysis of all infants admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit between January 2010 and October 2018 for which a complete blood count was performed during the first 3 postnatal days. Infants with a low MCV were compared with those with a normal MCV. Infants with positive hemoglobin Bart (Hb Bart) were compared with those withnegative Hb Bart. Low MCV was also evaluated as a diagnostic test for alpha thalassemia.

Results: A total of 3851 infants (1386 preterm, 2465 term) met the inclusion criteria and 853 (22.2%) had a low MCV. A low MCV was more common in term (25%) compared with preterm infants (17.1%, P < .001). Hb Bart positive newborn screening was identified in 133 infants (3.5%). Hb Bart was positive in 11.1% of infants with low MCV compared with 1.3% with normal MCV (P < .001). The sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive value, and negative predictive value of low MCV for the diagnosis of alpha thalassemia were 71.4%, 79.6%, 11.3%, and 98.7%, respectively.

Conclusions: As Hb Bart positive newborn screens were seen in only 11.1% of infants with microcytosis, further diagnostic investigation may be warranted in individual infants. Further research to correlate microcytosis with iron status in infants and mothers is needed as well as studies using DNA analysis for the evaluation of alpha thalassemia variants.

Keywords: alpha thalassemia; hemoglobin Bart; infant; iron deficiency; microcytosis.

Publication types

  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Case-Control Studies
  • Erythrocyte Indices*
  • Female
  • Hemoglobins, Abnormal / analysis*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal
  • Male
  • Neonatal Screening / methods
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Pregnancy
  • Retrospective Studies
  • alpha-Thalassemia / blood*
  • alpha-Thalassemia / diagnosis


  • Hemoglobins, Abnormal