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.
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).
You drink too much alcohol
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.
You are pregnant. This is because the developing baby needs more folic acid. Also,
the pregnant person 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
Some babies are born unable to absorb folic acid. This can lead to megaloblastic anemia.
Early treatment is needed to prevent problems, such as poor reasoning and learning.
Who is at risk for folate-deficiency anemia?
You are more likely to have this type of anemia if you:
What are the symptoms of folate-deficiency anemia?
Symptoms may include:
The symptoms of folate-deficiency anemia may look like other blood conditions or health
problems. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How is folate-deficiency anemia diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider may think you have this type of anemia after taking your
health history and doing a physical exam. You may have several blood tests to confirm
the diagnosis. You may also have a barium study if a digestive problem is the cause.
How is folate-deficiency anemia treated?
Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend
on how severe the condition is.
Treatment may include:
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 healthcare
provider may treat that first.
What are possible complications of folate-deficiency anemia?
Folate-deficiency anemia during pregnancy may cause a neural tube defect in the baby.
This is when the brain or spinal cord doesn’t develop normally. It can cause death
before or soon after birth. Or it may cause paralysis of the legs.
Key points about folate-deficiency anemia
Folate-deficiency anemia is the lack of folic acid in the blood.
In most cases, it is caused by a lack of folic acid in the diet.
Leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, beans, and whole grains are natural sources of folic
Folate-deficiency anemia in pregnancy may cause a neural tube defect in the baby.
This is when the brain or spinal cord doesn’t develop normally.
Treatment includes a well-balanced diet of foods with folic acid, folic acid supplements,
medicines, and treating underlying diseases.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells
At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments,
or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.
Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also
know what the side effects are.
Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that
Know how you can contact your healthcare provider if you have questions.