We are our own best advocates when it comes to health care. This is generally true, but we must know where to start. Medical professionals and patients alike need to sort through available information to determine the best course of care. This is true whether looking to treat a serious disease or injury, as well as when looking for preventative care measures. There are tools that can help us determine which course of action is best. When it comes to preventative care, the United States Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) is the leading government agency responsible for setting basic standards in primary care.
What is the USPSTF?
The USPSTF is an independent, volunteer panel composed of disease prevention experts from throughout the country. The group reviews evidence to provide guidance on the benefits and harms of various preventative services. If evidence is not available to come to a recommendation, the USPSTF will call on Congress to fill priority gaps in available evidence through additional research.
After reviewing evidence and making a recommendation, the group provides a grade. These grades help the medical professionals and the public to understand the strength of the recommendation. The grades include A, the highest recommendation, B as recommended, C a recommendation that depends on the patient’s situation, D not recommended, and I indicating there is not enough evidence to make a recommendation.
What does the USPSTF find concerning use of folic acid during pregnancy?
The group recently reviewed evidence around the use of folic acid before and during pregnancy and recommends those who are looking to become pregnant begin use of folic acid at least one month prior to and three months after pregnancy. The recommendation comes with a grading of A which indicated high reliability. The review confirmed use of folic acid aided in the prevention of neural tube defects (NTDs) in the fetuses of those capable of becoming pregnant.
In addition to these benefits, the group also investigated folic acid’s potential harms. Most notably, they reviewed evidence of an increased likelihood of maternal cancer or autism spectrum disorder. After review, they reported a statistically significant benefit to use folic acid and no statistically significant harms.
What does this mean for those looking to start a family?
The benefits of proper prenatal care can help to reduce the risk of NTDs and other harms to the fetus and mother. Folic acid is important to the proper formation of the spinal canal and the developing spinal cord. Conditions such as spina bifida and other neural tube defects are correlated with folic acid deficiency . These neural tube defects can have devastating effects on children creating difficulty in walking, bowel and bladder control. This report focuses specifically on the need for prenatal healthcare providers to encourage the use of folic acid, but it is important to note folic acid is one of many preventative measures they should discuss with their patients. Although we must advocate for our own care, it is also important to note that a failure by medical professionals to discuss these and other measures could rise to the level of medical malpractice.