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Folic acid deficiency: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About folic acid deficiency

Folic acid also called ‘folate’ or ‘vitamin B9’ is a water-soluble vitamin, whose deficiency results in anaemia which signifies low haemoglobin count. Folic acid is responsible not only for synthesis of red blood cells but also for DNA proteins which carry the genetic material. Food like green leafy vegetables, beans and citrus fruits are rich in folic acid.

Folic acid deficiency: Incidence, age and sex

Folic acid deficiency anaemia is commonly seen in general population. It can occur in any age group but children and adolescents are more frequently afflicted. It has a very distinct gender bias with an inclination towards women, especially those who are pregnant or lactating. It is more common in vegetarians as compared to non-vegetarians.

Signs and symptoms of folic acid deficiency: Diagnosis

An individual with folic acid deficiency may be asymptomatic most of the time. Clinical features may occur when a significant level of haemoglobin drops during a short period of time. The symptoms are non-specific and include ulcers at the corner of the mouth, soreness of tongue, diarrhoea or premature grey hair. Sometimes, such individuals also complain of difficulty in breathing during strenuous physical activity. Other features like depression, mood changes, memory problems, irritability, light-headedness and headache may also occur occasionally or in longstanding deficiency.

Examination by doctor may reveal pallor of skin and conjunctiva. An organ in abdomen by the name of spleen may be abnormally enlarged in cases of severe, untreated anaemia. Folic acid deficiency is associated with vitamin B 12 deficiency in most of the individuals. The diagnosis can be established by a detailed blood test which detects anaemia (low RBC count), increase in size of the red blood cells and reduced level of folic acid in body.

Causes and prevention of folic acid deficiency

The deficiency of folic acid is encountered either due to increased demand coupled with inadequate intake or insufficient absorption of folic acid. The deficiency of folic acid is most commonly seen in pregnant and lactating women due to increased demand which may not be met by dietary input. Sometimes medications like anticonvulsants and oral contraceptives may interfere with metabolism of folic acid resulting in its deficiency. Furthermore alcoholism and gastro-intestinal disorder like coeliac sprue can lead to impaired absorption of folic acid.

Folic acid deficiency can be prevented by maintaining an optimal diet, rich in fruits and green leafy vegetables and also red meat, if possible. It is advisable to avoid chronic consumption of alcohol. Furthermore pregnant and breast feeding women are recommended to take regular folic acid supplements during this period of increased demand by the body.

Folic acid deficiency: Complications

Deficiency of folic acid during pregnancy may result in neural tube defects in the new born baby. Such defects are serious and present since birth. Moreover it may cause persistent fatigue in the affected individual which impairs physical stamina and inability to carry out strenuous physical work. It also results in poor performance at work and studies due to reduced concentration and memory.

Folic acid deficiency: Treatment

The aim of treatment is to substitute the deficiency and unearth its underlying cause. The doctor may prescribe folic acid tablets which are essential in any pregnant and breast feeding woman. Increased consumption of food rich in folic acid like green leafy vegetables, whole grains, raisins and red meat is advisable. Sometimes injectible preparation of vitamin B 12 is given concurrently with folic acid supplements to effectively manage the condition.

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