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Vitamin B12 deficiency

What are vitamin B12 deficiency and folic acid deficiency? — Vitamin B12 and folic acid (also called “folate” or “vitamin B9”) are 2 different vitamins that your body needs to work normally. A “deficiency” means that your body does not have as much of something as it needs.

People can have vitamin B12 deficiency, folic acid deficiency, or both.

Why are vitamin B12 and folic acid important? — Your body needs vitamin B12 for many things. For example, you need vitamin B12 to make new blood cells, such as red blood cells, and for your nervous system to work normally.

Your body needs folic acid, too, to make new cells. Folic acid is especially important for women who are planning to get pregnant (or might get pregnant). That’s because folic acid is needed for a baby to develop normally, especially during the first few weeks of pregnancy. Folic acid is needed for the spinal cord to develop correctly.

What causes vitamin B12 deficiency or folic acid deficiency? — People can get vitamin B12 or folic acid deficiency when:

●They don’t eat enough foods that have the vitamin in them – Folic acid is added to many grains and cereals, so most people get enough. People who eat a vegetarian diet, especially strict vegans, need to take extra vitamin B12. (Vitamin B12 is found in meats and animal products like eggs.)

●They eat foods with vitamin B12 and folic acid, but their body can’t absorb or use the vitamins normally – These things can happen with certain medical problems, after weight loss surgery, or as a side effect of certain medicines. This is more common in the case of vitamin B12.

●They have a condition that makes them need extra folic acid – Examples include certain types of anemia and skin diseases.

What are the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency and folic acid deficiency? — A deficiency of vitamin B12, folic acid, or both can cause low blood counts. Your doctor can check this by doing a blood test. A low blood count can affect 1 or more of the following:

●Red blood cells –Doctors use the term “anemia” when a person has too few red blood cells. Anemia can cause headaches or trouble breathing, especially with exercise. It can also make you feel tired or weak.

●White blood cells – A low white blood cell count can increase your risk of infection.

●Platelets – A low platelet count might increase your risk of bleeding.

Vitamin B12 deficiency can also cause other symptoms related to the brain and nerves. They include:

●Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet

●Trouble walking

●Mood changes

●Memory problems or trouble thinking clearly

Should I see a doctor or nurse? — Yes. You should see your doctor or nurse if you have any of the symptoms listed above.

Is there a test for vitamin B12 deficiency and folic acid deficiency? — Yes. Your doctor or nurse can do blood tests to check for deficiencies of these vitamins.

If you have vitamin B12 or folic acid deficiency, your doctor or nurse will want to know why. He or she might do other tests to find out if it’s because of a medical condition.

How are vitamin B12 deficiency and folic acid deficiency treated? — Doctors treat vitamin B12 deficiency by giving people vitamin B12. It comes in the form of a shot or pills. You and your doctor will decide which form is better for your situation.

Doctors treat folic acid deficiency by giving people folic acid. This treatment comes as a pill. Women who are pregnant or planning to get pregnant should also make sure they are getting enough folic acid.

Your doctor or nurse will also treat the cause of your deficiency, if it can be treated.

Can vitamin B12 deficiency and folic acid deficiency be prevented? — Yes. You can lower your chances of getting vitamin B12 deficiency and folic acid deficiency by eating foods that have the vitamins in them. Foods with vitamin B12 include any foods from animals, such as meat, fish, eggs, and milk. Foods with folic acid include fruits and green leafy vegetables. Many grains, like bread and cereals, have folic acid added to them.

If you don’t eat these foods, your doctor or nurse might recommend that you take a vitamin supplement. Vitamin supplements are pills, capsules, or liquids that have nutrients in them.

If you are a strict vegetarian or vegan and do not eat any meats, dairy foods, or eggs, you will not get enough vitamin B12 from your diet alone. To avoid getting vitamin B12 deficiency, you should take a daily vitamin B12 supplement.

What if I want to get pregnant? — If you want to get pregnant, you should start taking a multivitamin at least 1 month before you start trying to get pregnant. Choose a multivitamin that has at least 400 micrograms of folic acid. Show your doctor or nurse the vitamin you plan to take to make sure the doses are right for you and your baby. Too much of some vitamins can be harmful.