Reticulocyte hemoglobin content as a function of iron stores at 35–36 weeks post menstrual age in very premature infants



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Journal of Maternal-Fetal and Neonatal Medicine


Background: Premature infants are born with lower iron stores and are at risk for iron deficiency during early infancy. To prevent iron deficiency, premature infants are routinely supplemented with 2 mg/kg/day oral elemental iron. Reticulocyte hemoglobin content (RET-He), a measure of iron deficiency, has not been well evaluated prior to discharge in premature infants. Objectives: Our objectives were to evaluate RET-He and its correlation with serum ferritin (SF), an index of iron stores, at 35–36 weeks postmenstrual age (PMA) in ≤32 weeks gestational age (GA) infants. Methods: We performed a prospective nested study involving 24–32 weeks GA infants who were receiving 2 mg/kg/day oral elemental iron with full enteral feedings at 35–36 weeks PMA. Infants with the following conditions were excluded: craniofacial malformation, chromosomal disorders, TORCH (toxoplasmosis, other infections, rubella, cytomegalovirus, and herpes simplex), culture-proven sepsis, C-reactive protein >5 mg/l within 10 days of iron status assessment, or erythropoietin therapy. SF and RET-He were measured at 35–36 weeks PMA using chemiluminescence immunoassay and Sysmex XN hematology analyzer, respectively. RET-He <27 pg was deemed indicative of iron deficiency. Results: Ninety-eight infants were studied, of which 21 infants had RET-He <27 pg. There was a positive correlation between RET-He and SF (coefficient 0.22, p =.03) that remained significant after controlling for GA (coefficient 0.21, p =.03) and frequency of prior erythrocyte transfusions (coefficient 0.21, p =.03). On stratified analysis, there was a positive correlation between SF and RET-He in females (N = 52, coefficient 0.23, p =.02), but not in males (N = 46, coefficient 0.05). Conclusions: Most premature infants receiving 2 mg/kg/day oral elemental iron are iron replete for erythropoiesis at 35–36 weeks PMA. RET-He increases with an increase in iron stores, suggesting that additional iron supplementation prior to discharge to very premature infants with borderline low RET-He may help prevent iron deficiency during early infancy.

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