Anemia of Folate Deficiency

What is folate-deficiency anemia?

Folate deficiency is the lack of folic acid (one of the B vitamins) in the blood, which can cause a type of anemia known as megaloblastic (pernicious) anemia. Folic acid is a B vitamin required for the production of normal red blood cells.


What causes folate-deficiency anemia?

This anemia is typically caused by a poor diet, in which adequate amounts of folic acid are lacking. Folic acid is present in foods such as green leafy vegetables; fresh fruits; cereals; meats, including liver; and yeast. It is also produced synthetically and added to many food items. Alcohol interferes with the absorption of folate, so persons who drink excessively are at risk for folate-deficiency anemia. Folate deficiency can also be seen in certain diseases of the lower digestive tract such as celiac disease, or in persons with cancer.

Folate deficiency often occurs during pregnancy, because the woman's body needs an increased amount of folate. Nausea from morning sickness, anorexia, and poor dietary habits also contribute to folate deficiency during pregancy. There is an association between folate deficiency during pregnancy and neural tube defects in the developing fetus.

The inability to absorb folic acid may also be inherited. Inherited congenital folate malabsorption, a genetic problem in which infants cannot absorb folic acid in their intestines, can lead to megaloblastic anemia. This requires early intensive treatment to prevent long-term problems such as mental retardation.

Certain medications, specifically ones that prevent seizures, such as phenytoin, primidone, and phenobarbital, can impair the absorption of folic acid. The deficiency can usually be treated with a dietary supplement.

Treatment for folate-deficiency anemia:

Specific treatment for folate-deficiency anemia will be determined by your physician based on:

    * your age, overall health, and medical history
    * extent of the disease
    * your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
    * expectations for the course of the disease
    *  your opinion or preference

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