What is folate deficiency anemia?
Folate deficiency anemia happens when your body does not have enough folate. Folate 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 folate every day.
Most people can get enough folate from foods they eat, such as leafy green vegetables and grains enriched with folic acid. 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.
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 drink too much alcohol or have severe kidney problems that require dialysis.
- 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 lightheaded.
- Be forgetful.
- Feel grouchy.
- Lose your appetite and lose weight.
- Have trouble concentrating.
How is it 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 folate.
The level of vitamin B12 will be checked too. Some people whose folate 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 folate 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 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 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. If you are pregnant and you have not been taking a vitamin containing folic acid, begin taking it right away.
Current as of: November 29, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine