Recommendations on the Use of Folic Acid Supplementation to Prevent the Recurrence of Neural Tube Defects

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To prevent the recurrence of neural tube defects (NTDs) in families at increased risk of having offspring with NTDs with the use of periconceptional folic acid supplementation.


Genetic counselling and prenatal diagnosis of NTDs.


NTDs cause stillbirth, neonatal death and severe disabilities. The cost for medical care and rehabilitation in the first 10 years of life of a child with spina bifida cystica was estimated to be $42 507 in 1987.


The authors reviewed the medical literature, communicated with investigators from key studies, reviewed policy recommendations from other organizations and drew on their own expertise. A recent multicentre randomized controlled trial showed that among women at high risk of having a child with an NTD those who received 4 mg/d of folic acid had 72% fewer cases of NTD-affected offspring than nonsupplemented women. Two previous intervention studies also demonstrated that folic acid supplementation was effective in reducing the rate of NTD recurrence. Several retrospective studies support this conclusion.


Recommendations are the consensus of the Clinical Teratology Committee of the Canadian College of Medical Geneticists (CCMG) and have been approved by the CCMG Board. The committee believes that primary prevention of NTDs is preferable to treatment or to prenatal detection and abortion.

Benefits, harms and costs

Folic acid supplementation should result in fewer NTDs among infants in Canada and ancillary savings in medical costs. The recommended dosage of folic acid is not known to be associated with adverse effects. Higher dosages of folic acid may make vitamin B12 deficiency difficult to diagnose and may alter seizure frequency in patients with epilepsy due to drug interactions with anticonvulsants.


A minimum dosage of folic acid of 0.8 mg/d, not to exceed 5.0 mg/d, is recommended along with a well-balanced, nutritious diet for all women who are at increased risk of having offspring with NTDs and who are planning a pregnancy or may become pregnant. Supplementation should begin before conception and continue for at least 10 to 12 weeks of pregnancy.


These guidelines are similar to those of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health in Britain.


These guidelines were developed by the CCMG Clinical Teratology Committee and endorsed by the Board of the CCMG. No funding for the development of these guidelines was obtained from any other sources.

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