Folic Acid Deficiency Symptoms

by on June 7, 2012

Folic acid belongs to the B vitamin group. It is a water-soluble vitamin which means that it is readily excreted in the urine and cannot be stored in the body in large amounts. Because of this, it is possible for your blood levels of folate to become deficient (folic acid deficiency anemia) after a few weeks of not taking the recommended amount of folate.

Folic acid deficiency, especially for pregnant women, can lead to serious complications as such should be diagnosed and treated early on.

Causes and Risk Factors

Folic acid deficiency is caused by a number of factors such as:

  • Inadequate intake of folic acid such as having poor diet, eating overcooked foods, and poor appetite.
  • Increased need for folic acid such as during pregnancy and people with certain medical conditions (particularly hemolytic anemia or sickle cell disease).
  • Impairment in the absorption of folic acid due to drinking too much alcohol, certain medical conditions (particularly celiac disease and Crohn’s disease), and severe kidney diseases that require dialysis.
  • Using certain medications such as those used for cancer, seizures and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Taking high doses of folic acid during the last three months of pregnancy.

Symptoms of Folic Acid Deficiency

Some of the symptoms of folic acid deficiency may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Fatigue or unexplained weakness or tiredness
  • Gray hair
  • Mouth sores or ulcers
  • Stunted growth
  • Swollen tongue
  • Changes in mood and even depression
  • Low libido in men

Signs and Diagnostic Tests

To diagnose a deficiency, your healthcare provider will run a complete medical history and a thorough physical checkup. It includes certain blood tests and diagnostic procedures to check the number of red blood cells and blood folic acid levels.

Your healthcare provider may also need to check your level of vitamin B12. These vitamins are associated with each other. Some people with folic acid deficiency may also have low vitamin B12 levels. In addition, both of these vitamin deficiencies can cause similar symptoms.

Blood tests are required to diagnose folic acid deficiency. Since pregnant women have an increased need for folic acid, prenatal checkups usually include such blood tests.

Complications of Folic Acid Deficiency

When left untreated, folic acid deficiency can lead to complications, particularly folic acid deficiency anemia (low red blood cell count). Folate-deficiency anemia results in immature, abnormally large red blood cells which can lead into disturbing symptoms such as lose of weight and appetite, forgetfulness, lightheadedness, fatigue, and trouble concentrating. In some people, folic acid deficiency is detected due symptoms of anemia.

Severe cases of folic acid deficiency can lead to low levels of white blood cells and platelets.

For pregnant women, folic acid deficiency can cause neural tube defects (malformations of the spinal cord and brain) on the infant. Take note that folic acid plays a crucial role in the healthy development of the fetus, specifically of the brain and spinal cord.