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Folate Deficiency Anemia

Condition Basics

What is folate deficiency anemia?

Folate deficiency anemia is a blood problem that occurs when your body doesn't have enough folate (folic acid). This B vitamin helps your body make red blood cells, which carry oxygen. Without enough folate, the body doesn't have enough red blood cells (anemia). Anemia can make you feel weak and tired.

What causes it?

You can get folate deficiency anemia if:

  • You don't eat enough foods that contain folate or folic acid. These include citrus fruits, leafy green vegetables, and fortified cereals.
  • You have a greater need for folate. This might happen if you are pregnant or have some medical problems, such as sickle cell disease.
  • Your body doesn't absorb enough folate. This might happen if you have a medical condition like celiac disease or have had certain types of weight-loss surgery.
  • You take certain medicines, such as an anti-seizure medicine like phenytoin.

What are the symptoms?

Anemia may make you feel weak and tired, light-headed, or grouchy. You may lose your appetite and lose weight. And you may be forgetful and have trouble concentrating.

How is it diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and past health and do a physical examination. You'll have blood tests to check the number of red blood cells and your levels of folate and vitamin B12. Some people have low levels of both of these vitamins. The two problems can cause similar symptoms.

How is it treated?

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

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

After your folate levels are normal, eat foods rich in folate and folic acid so you don't get anemia again. These foods include breads and cereals fortified with folic acid, citrus fruits, and dark green, leafy vegetables.

Why is folic acid important 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 you even know you're pregnant.

If you 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. If you are pregnant and you haven't been taking a vitamin containing folic acid, start taking it right away.

Credits

Current as of: September 8, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine

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