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Folic acid deficiency is a shortage of folic acid or folate, one of the B vitamins. This vitamin plays a role in a number of processes inside the body. Left untreated, a folic acid deficiency will progress to folic acid anemia, also known as folate anemia, a form of megaloblastic anemia. Common folic acid deficiency symptoms can include a loss of appetite, weakness and fatigue, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. There are a number of steps which people can take to reduce their risks of developing these folic acid deficiency symptoms.
People at risk for folic acid deficiency include people who do not eat a balanced diet or who have a medical condition which interferes with the absorption of nutrients, such as alcoholism or a malabsorption disorder. Certain medications can lead to deficiencies because they interfere with the way the body processes nutrients, and people on kidney dialysis are at risk of folic acid deficiency because folic acid is expressed at a higher rate. Age is another risk factor.
When people hear the words "folic acid," they often think of pregnancy, because pregnant women are advised to take folic acid supplements. This is a result of the fact that the body utilizes folic acid at a greater rate during pregnancy, and also during breastfeeding, putting women at risk of a folic acid deficiency. In addition, babies born to mothers with a folic acid deficiency are more likely to be premature and may have neural tube defects.
Folic acid deficiency symptoms may very subtle at first, and that can make this vitamin deficiency difficult to diagnose unless a patient and doctor are specifically looking for it. Some early signs can include fatigue, a sore tongue, headaches, irritability, loose stools, confusion, and difficulty focusing. Over time, the condition will result in anemia, which will increase the intensity of these symptoms.
A folic acid deficiency can usually be corrected by increasing intake of folic acid. People can determine whether they are deficient in this nutrient by having a blood test done. The blood will be analyzed to determine its composition and to look specifically for abnormally low levels of specific nutrients which should be present. If the cause for a folic acid deficiency is not known, treatment should also include determining the cause and treating it. Someone who is pregnant, for example, would know why she has a folate deficiency, while someone with no known health problems who develops folic acid deficiency symptoms should be examined to learn more about what is happening inside the body.