What is vitamin deficiency anemia?
Vitamin deficiency anemia is a lack of healthy red blood cells caused when you have lower than normal amounts of certain vitamins. Vitamins linked to vitamin deficiency anemia include folate, vitamin B-12 and vitamin C.
Vitamin deficiency anemia can occur if you don’t eat enough folate, vitamin B-12 or vitamin C. Or vitamin deficiency anemia can occur if your body has trouble absorbing or processing these vitamins.
Not all anemias are caused by a vitamin deficiency. Other causes include iron deficiency and certain blood diseases. That’s why it’s important to have your doctor diagnose and treat your anemia. Vitamin deficiency anemia can usually be corrected with vitamin supplements and changes to your diet.
How common is vitamin deficiency anemia?
Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of vitamin deficiency anemia?
The common symptoms of vitamin deficiency anemia are:
- Shortness of breath
- Pale or yellowish skin
- Irregular heartbeats
- Weight loss
- Numbness or tingling in your hands and feet
- Muscle weakness
- Personality changes
- Unsteady movements
- Mental confusion or forgetfulness
Vitamin deficiencies usually develop slowly over several months to years. Vitamin deficiency symptoms may be subtle at first, but they increase as the deficiency worsens.
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 vitamin deficiency anemia?
Vitamin deficiency anemia occurs when your body doesn’t have enough of the vitamins needed to produce adequate numbers of healthy red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen from your lungs throughout your body. If your diet is lacking in certain vitamins, vitamin deficiency anemia can develop. Or vitamin deficiency anemia may develop because your body can’t properly absorb the nutrients from the foods you eat.
Causes of vitamin deficiency anemias, also known as megaloblastic anemias, include:
- Folate deficiency anemia. Folate, also known as vitamin B-9, is a nutrient found mainly in fruits and leafy green vegetables. A diet consistently lacking in these foods can lead to a deficiency. An inability to absorb folate from food also can lead to a deficiency. Most nutrients from food are absorbed in your small intestine. People with diseases of the small intestine, such as celiac disease, or those who have had a large part of the small intestine surgically removed or bypassed may have difficulty absorbing folate or its synthetic form, folic acid. Alcohol decreases absorption of folate, so drinking alcohol to excess may lead to a deficiency. Certain prescription drugs, such as some anti-seizure medications, can interfere with absorption of this nutrient. Pregnant women and women who are breast-feeding have an increased demand for folate, as do people undergoing hemodialysis for kidney disease. Failure to meet this increased demand can result in a deficiency.
- Vitamin B-12 deficiency anemia. Vitamin B-12 deficiency can result from a diet lacking in vitamin B-12, which is found mainly in meat, eggs and milk. Vitamin B-12 deficiency anemia can also occur if your small intestine can’t absorb vitamin B-12. This may be due to surgery to your stomach or small intestine (such as gastric bypass surgery), abnormal bacterial growth in your small intestine, or an intestinal disease, such as Crohn’s disease or celiac disease, that interferes with absorption of the vitamin. Vitamin B-12 deficiency can also be caused by a tapeworm ingested from contaminated fish, because the tapeworm saps nutrients from your body. However, a vitamin B-12 deficiency is most often due to a lack of a substance called intrinsic factor. Intrinsic factor is a protein secreted by the stomach that joins vitamin B-12 in the stomach and escorts it through the small intestine to be absorbed by your bloodstream. Without intrinsic factor, vitamin B-12 can’t be absorbed and leaves your body as waste. Lack of intrinsic factor may be due to an autoimmune reaction in which your immune system mistakenly attacks the stomach cells that produce it. Vitamin B-12 deficiency anemia caused by a lack of intrinsic factor is called pernicious anemia.
- Vitamin C deficiency anemia. Vitamin C deficiency can develop if you don’t get enough vitamin C from the foods you eat. Vitamin C deficiency is also possible if something impairs your ability to absorb vitamin C from food. For instance, smoking impairs your body’s ability to absorb vitamin C.
What increases my risk for vitamin deficiency anemia?
There are many risk factors for vitamin deficiency anemia, such as:
- Your diet contains little to no natural vitamin food sources, such as meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables. Vegetarians who don’t eat dairy products and vegans, who don’t eat any foods from animals, may fall into this category. Consistently overcooking your food also can cause vitamin deficiency.
- You’re pregnant, and you aren’t taking a multivitamin. Folic acid supplements are especially important during pregnancy.
- You have intestinal problems or other medical conditions that interfere with absorption of vitamins. Abnormal bacterial growth in your stomach or surgery to your intestines or stomach can interfere with the absorption of vitamin B-12.
- You abuse alcohol. Alcohol interferes with the absorption of folate and vitamin C, as well as other vitamins.
- You take certain prescription medications that can block absorption of vitamins. Anti-seizure drugs can block the absorption of folate. Antacids and some drugs used to treat type 2 diabetes may interfere with B-12 absorption.
Some risk factors are unique to specific vitamin deficiencies.
Folate-deficiency anemia risk factors include:
- Undergoing hemodialysis for kidney failure. Ask your doctor whether you need supplemental folic acid to prevent a deficiency.
- Cancer treatment. Some drugs used to treat cancer can interfere with the metabolism of folate.
Vitamin B-12 deficiency anemia risk factors include:
- Lack of intrinsic factor. Most people with a vitamin B-12 deficiency anemia lack intrinsic factor — a protein secreted by the stomach that is necessary for absorption of vitamin B-12. Lack of intrinsic factor may be due to an autoimmune reaction, or it may be inherited.
- An autoimmune disorder. People with endocrine-related autoimmune disorders, such as diabetes or thyroid disease, may have an increased risk of developing a specific type of vitamin B-12 deficiency anemia called pernicious anemia.
Vitamin C deficiency anemia risk factors include:
- Smoking can lead to vitamin C deficiency because it decreases the absorption of this vitamin.
- Chronic illness. Certain chronic illnesses, such as cancer or chronic kidney disease, increase your risk of vitamin C deficiency anemia by affecting the absorption of vitamin C.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is vitamin deficiency anemia diagnosed?
Once blood tests show a person has anemia, tests are done to determine if a deficiency of vitamin B12 or folate is the cause. Anemia due to vitamin B12 or folate deficiency is suspected when large (macrocytic) red blood cells and multilobed (hypersegmented) neutrophils (a type of white blood cell) are seen in a blood sample that is examined under a microscope. Reduction in the number of white blood cells and platelets also can occur, especially when people have had vitamin deficiency anemia for a long time.
The blood levels of vitamin B12 and folate are measured, and other tests may be done to determine the cause of the vitamin B12 deficiency.
How is vitamin deficiency anemia treated?
Treatment for vitamin deficiency anemia includes supplements and changes in diet.
- Folate deficiency anemia. Treatment involves eating a healthy diet and taking folic acid supplements as prescribed by your doctor. In most cases, folic acid supplements are taken orally. Once your body’s level of folate increases to normal, you may be able to stop taking the supplements. But if the cause of your folate deficiency can’t be corrected, you may need to take folic acid supplements indefinitely.
- Vitamin B-12 deficiency anemia, including pernicious anemia. For milder cases of vitamin B-12 deficiency, treatment may involve changes to your diet and vitamin B-12 supplements in pill form or as a nasal spray. Your doctor may suggest vitamin B-12 injections, particularly if your vitamin B-12 deficiency is severe. At first, you may receive the shots as often as every other day. Eventually, you’ll need injections just once a month, which may continue for life, depending on your situation.
- Vitamin C deficiency anemia. Treatment for anemia related to vitamin C deficiency is with vitamin C tablets. Additionally, you increase your intake of foods and beverages that contain vitamin C.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage vitamin deficiency anemia?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with vitamin deficiency anemia:
- Choose a healthy diet. You can prevent some forms of vitamin deficiency anemias by choosing a healthy diet that includes a variety of foods.
- Consider a multivitamin. If you’re concerned about getting enough vitamins from the food you eat, ask your doctor whether a multivitamin may be right for you. Most people get enough vitamins from the foods they eat. But if your diet is restricted, you may wish to take a multivitamin.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking interferes with the absorption of nutrients, such as vitamin C, so it can raise your risk of a vitamin deficiency. If you smoke, quit. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you’ve tried to quit on your own and haven’t been successful, talk with your doctor about strategies to help you quit.
- Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all. Alcohol can contribute to vitamin deficiency anemia. If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation.
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.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.