What is folate deficiency anemia?
Folate-deficiency anemia is the lack of folic acid in the blood. Folic acid is a B vitamin that helps your body make red blood cells. If you don’t have enough red blood cells, you have anemia.
Red blood cells carry oxygen to all parts of your body. When you have anemia, your blood can’t bring enough oxygen to all your tissues and organs. Without enough oxygen, your body can’t work as well as it should.
Low levels of folic acid can cause megaloblastic anemia. With this condition, red blood cells are larger than normal. There are fewer of these cells. They are also oval-shaped, not round. Sometimes these red blood cells don’t live as long as normal red blood cells.
Most people get enough folic acid in the food they eat. But some people either don’t get enough in their diet or have trouble absorbing it from the foods they eat. Talk to your doctor about whether you should take a daily vitamin with folic acid. Pregnant women who do not get enough folic acid are more likely to have babies with very serious birth defects.
How common is folate deficiency anemia?
Folate deficiency anemia can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of folate deficiency anemia?
The common symptoms of folate deficiency anemia are:
- Pale skin
- Being grouchy (irritable)
- Lack of energy or tiring easily
- Smooth and tender tongue
- Feel lightheaded
- Be forgetful
- Lose your appetite and lose weight
- Have trouble concentrating
The symptoms of folate-deficiency anemia may look like other blood conditions or health problems. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes folate deficiency anemia?
You can develop folate-deficiency anemia if:
- You don’t eat enough foods that have folic acid. These include green leafy vegetables, fresh fruits, fortified cereals, yeast, and meats (including liver).
- Your body doesn’t absorb enough folic acid. This might happen if you drink too much alcohol or have severe kidney problems that require dialysis.
- You have certain diseases of the lower digestive tract, such as celiac disease. This type of anemia also occurs in people with cancer.
- You take certain medicines, such as some used for seizures (such as phenytoin [Dilantin], methotrexate, sulfasalazine, triamterene, pyrimethamine, trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, and barbiturates)
- You are pregnant. This is because the developing baby needs more folic acid. Also, the mother absorbs it more slowly. A lack of folate during pregnancy is linked to major birth defects that affect the brain, spinal cord, and spine (neural tube defects).
Some babies are born unable to absorb folic acid. This can lead to megaloblastic anemia. With this condition, red blood cells are larger than normal. They also have a different shape. Early treatment is needed to prevent problems such as poor reasoning and learning.
What increases my risk for folate deficiency anemia?
There are many risk factors for folate deficiency anemia, such as:
- Don’t eat a healthy diet
- Drink a lot of alcohol
- Are pregnant
- Can’t absorb folic acid
- Are taking certain medicines, such as those used to control seizures
Diagnosis & Treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is folate deficiency anemia diagnosed?
Your doctor will examine you and ask questions about your past health and how you are feeling now. You will also have blood tests to check the number of red blood cells and to see if your body has enough folic acid. Tests that may be done include:
- Complete blood count (CBC)
- Red blood cell folate level
The level of vitamin B12 will be checked too. Some people whose folic acid levels are too low also have low levels of vitamin B12. The two problems can cause similar symptoms.
You may also have a barium study if a digestive problem is the cause. Rarely, a bone marrow examination may be done.
How is folate deficiency anemia treated?
The goal is to identify and treat the cause of the folate deficiency. Your healthcare provider will figure out the best treatment based on:
- Your age, overall health, and medical history
- How sick you are
- How well you can handle certain medicines, treatments, or therapies
- How long the condition is expected to last
- Your opinion or preference
Treatment may include:
- Vitamin and mineral supplements
- Changes in your diet
- Treating the underlying disease
You may need to take folic acid supplements for at least 2 to 3 months. These may be pills or shots (injections). Eating foods high in folic acid and cutting your alcohol intake are also important. If a digestive tract problem causes your anemia, your provider may treat that first.
Lifestyle changes & Home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage folate deficiency anemia?
Eat foods rich in folic acid so you don’t get anemia again. These foods include fortified breads and cereals, citrus fruits, and dark green, leafy vegetables.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Folate-Deficiency Anemia. http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/hematology_and_blood_disorders/anemia_of_folate_deficiency_85,P00089/. Accessed Mar 19, 2017.
Folate-deficiency anemia. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000551.htm. Accessed Mar 19, 2017.
Folic Acid Deficiency Anemia - Topic Overview. http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/tc/folic-acid-deficiency-anemia-topic-overview#1. Accessed Mar 19, 2017.
Review Date: March 19, 2017 | Last Modified: September 12, 2019