The risk of neural tube defects (NTDs) is decreased in women who take folic acid during the periconceptional period. The main objective of our study was to evaluate the awareness of the need for folic acid supplementation and also the actual intake during the periconceptional period to prevent neural tube defects in a Mediterranean area.
A retrospective study was performed from 1 July to 30 November 2000. One thousand consecutive women who delivered in our hospital were interviewed during the immediate postpartum period about their knowledge of neural tube defects and folic acid intake before and during pregnancy.
Most women (85.7%) referred not having been specifically informed about the need to take folic acid to prevent neural tube defects although approximately half of the women (50.6%) were in fact, aware of the need for folic acid intake. Eight percent (8.1%) of the women took folic acid before conception but only 6.9% did so during the effective period from 4 weeks before conception to 4 weeks after conception. Logistic regression analysis showed that awareness of the need to take folic acid together with having had preconceptional counselling and knowledge of NTDs were the strongest variables related to the fact of having taken folic acid during the correct period.
Although the population is aware of the need to take folic acid, the real impact of the present recommendations is almost negligible. Information in primary care and preconceptional counselling to specifically inform patients about the need to take folic acid to prevent NTDs seem to be crucial to improve the final intake of folic acid during the protective period.