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Background: Antenatal anemia is a risk factor for adverse maternal and fetal outcomes and is prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa. Less than half of antenatal anemia is considered responsive to iron; identifying women in need of iron may help target interventions. Iron absorption is governed by the iron-regulatory hormone hepcidin.Objective: We sought to characterize changes in hepcidin and its associations with indexes of iron stores, erythropoiesis, and inflammation at weeks 14, 20, and 30 of gestation and to assess hepcidin's diagnostic potential as an index of iron deficiency.Methods: We measured hemoglobin and serum hepcidin, ferritin, soluble transferrin receptor (sTfR), and C-reactive protein (CRP) at 14, 20, and 30 wk of gestation in a cohort of 395 Gambian women recruited to a randomized controlled trial. Associations with hepcidin were measured by using linear regression, and hepcidin's diagnostic test accuracy [area under the receiver operating characteristic curve (AUCROC), sensitivity, specificity, cutoffs] for iron deficiency at each time point was analyzed.Results: The prevalence of anemia increased from 34.6% at 14 wk of gestation to 50.0% at 20 wk. Hepcidin concentrations declined between study enrollment and 20 wk, whereas ferritin declined between 20 and 30 wk of gestation. The variations in hepcidin explained by ferritin, sTfR, and CRP declined over pregnancy. The AUCROC values for hepcidin to detect iron deficiency (defined as ferritin <15 μg/L) were 0.86, 0.83, and 0.84 at 14, 20, and 30 wk, respectively. Hepcidin was superior to hemoglobin and sTfR as an indicator of iron deficiency.Conclusions: In Gambian pregnant women, hepcidin appears to be a useful diagnostic test for iron deficiency and may enable the identification of cases for whom iron would be beneficial. Hepcidin suppression in the second trimester suggests a window for optimal timing for antenatal iron interventions. Hemoglobin does not effectively identify iron deficiency in pregnancy. This trial was registered at as ISRCTN49285450.

Original publication




Journal article


J Nutr

Publication Date





1131 - 1137


anemia, diagnostic, hepcidin, iron deficiency, pregnancy, Adult, Anemia, Iron-Deficiency, Area Under Curve, C-Reactive Protein, Cohort Studies, Erythropoiesis, Female, Ferritins, Gambia, Gestational Age, Hemoglobins, Hepcidins, Humans, Inflammation, Iron, Longitudinal Studies, Pregnancy, Pregnancy Complications, Prevalence, ROC Curve, Receptors, Transferrin, Sensitivity and Specificity, Young Adult