Folic Acid Deficiency Anemia

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Folic Acid Deficiency Anemia

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Picture of red blood cells What is folic acid deficiency anemia?

Folic acid deficiency anemia happens when your body does not get enough folic acid. Folic acid is one of the B vitamins, and it helps your body make new cells, including new red blood cells. Your body needs red blood cells to carry oxygen. If you don't have enough red blood cells, you have anemia, which can make you feel weak and tired. So it’s important that you get enough folic acid every day.

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.

What causes folic acid deficiency anemia?

You can get folic acid deficiency anemia if:

  • You don't eat enough foods that contain folic acid. These include citrus fruits, leafy green vegetables, and fortified cereals.
  • You have a greater need for folic acid. This might happen if you are pregnant or have some medical problems, such as sickle cell disease.
  • Your body doesn't absorb enough folic acid. This might happen if you drink too much alcohol or have severe kidney problems that require blood-cleaning procedures.
  • You take certain medicines, such as some used for cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and seizures.

What are the symptoms?

Anemia may make you:

  • Feel weak and tired.
  • Feel light-headed.
  • Be forgetful.
  • Feel grouchy.
  • Lose your appetite and lose weight.
  • Have trouble concentrating.

How is folic acid 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.

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.

How is it treated?

If you think you have anemia, it is important to see your doctor and get tested so you can get the right treatment. Being treated for a shortage of folic acid when your anemia is caused by something else can be dangerous.

To treat the anemia, you can take folic acid pills each day to bring your folic acid level back up.

After your folic acid levels are normal, 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.

Why is folic acid important before and during pregnancy?

Folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects, such as spina bifida. These are major birth defects in which the baby's brain or spine is not fully formed. These birth defects usually happen in the first few weeks of pregnancy, before a woman even knows she is pregnant.

If you are a woman who could get pregnant, experts recommend taking a daily vitamin to make sure you get enough folic acid. For folic acid to help, you need to take it every day, starting before you become pregnant.

Other Places To Get Help

Organizations

National Anemia Action Council
555 East Wells Street
Suite 1100
Milwaukee, WI 53202
Phone: (414) 225-0138
Web Address: www.anemia.org
 

The National Anemia Action Council (NAAC) helps raise awareness of the public and health professionals about the prevalence, symptoms, and treatment options of anemia. This nonprofit organization provides information to help improve the lives of people with anemia. Through education, the NACC helps improve detection, evaluation, treatment, and patient health.


Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC)
130 Colonnade Road
A.L. 6501H
Ottawa, ON  K1A 0K9
Phone: Telephone numbers for PHAC vary by region. For your regional number, go to the listing on the PHAC website at www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/contac-eng.php.
Web Address: www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/index-eng.php
 

The Public Health Agency of Canada (formerly the Population and Public Health Branch of Health Canada) is primarily responsible for policies, programs, and systems relating to disease prevention, health promotion, disease surveillance, community action, and disease control.


U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
P.O. Box 30105
Bethesda, MD  20824-0105
Phone: (301) 592-8573
Fax: (240) 629-3246
TDD: (240) 629-3255
Email: nhlbiinfo@nhlbi.nih.gov
Web Address: www.nhlbi.nih.gov
 

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) information center offers information and publications about preventing and treating:

  • Diseases affecting the heart and circulation, such as heart attacks, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, peripheral artery disease, and heart problems present at birth (congenital heart diseases).
  • Diseases that affect the lungs, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, sleep apnea, and pneumonia.
  • Diseases that affect the blood, such as anemia, hemochromatosis, hemophilia, thalassemia, and von Willebrand disease.

References

Other Works Consulted

  • Katz DL (2008). Appendices and resource materials, Folate. In Nutrition in Clinical Practice: A Comprehensive, Evidence-Based Manual for the Practitioner, 2nd ed., pp. 517–519. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
  • Green R (2010). Folate, cobalamin, and megaloblastic anemias. In K Kaushansky et al., eds., Williams Hematology, 8th ed., pp. 533–563. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Stopler T (2008). Medical nutrition therapy for anemia. In LK Mahan, S Escott-Stump, eds., Krause's Food and Nutrition Therapy, 12th ed., pp. 810–832. St. Louis, Mo: Saunders Elsevier.
  • U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (2009). Folic acid for the prevention of neural tube defects. Available online: http://www.ahrq.gov/clinic/uspstf09/folicacid/folicacidrs.htm.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Brian Leber, MDCM, FRCPC - Hematology
Last Revised March 15, 2011

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