What is Vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anaemia?

Vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anaemia is a condition where the body cannot make enough red blood cells to carry oxygen to the cells in the body.

The term folate deficiency refers to a lack of vitamin B12 in the body. Folate is a vitamin found in foods such as fish, meat and poultry, and in some cereals. It is also found in some foods.

Vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia is often caused by a poor diet, lack of exercise, or being pregnant. Vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia is also linked to diseases that affect the stomach and intestines such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia is a common condition that affects around 1 in 200 people in the UK.

How does it affect me?

You may find it hard to concentrate, feel tired, or have headaches. You may also find that you have a dry mouth or sore mouth.

Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia

You may experience the following symptoms:

  • Feeling tired
  • Feeling weak
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Feeling short of breath
  • Feeling thirsty
  • Feeling generally unwell

How long does it take to develop?

If you have a vitamin B12 deficiency, you may not notice any symptoms at first. You may only find out you have a deficiency by a blood test.

However, it can take up to 6 months to develop symptoms, which is why it is important to see your GP.

How is it diagnosed?

Your GP will ask you about your diet and any symptoms you are experiencing. They may also ask you about your medical history and lifestyle.

Your GP will then do a physical examination and ask you some questions about your medical history. They will also do a blood test to check if you have a vitamin B12 deficiency.

This involves using a needle to take a small amount of blood from a vein in your arm.

How can I treat it?

You may be advised to eat more of the foods that contain vitamin B12. However, it is important to get enough vitamin B12 in your diet.

Examples of foods that contain vitamin B12 include:

  • Meat, poultry and fish
  • Eggs
  • Cereals, such as porridge

You can also take a supplement of vitamin B12. This will give you the extra amount of vitamin B12 your body needs.

You may be advised to:

  • Exercise more, especially if you are overweight
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Eat more fruit and vegetables
  • Drink more fluids, as this will help you to stay hydrated
  • Take a multivitamin supplement
  • Eat more foods such as beans, pulses or lentils

You may also be advised to take other medicines, such as:

  • Painkillers
  • Anti-seizure medicine
  • Antibiotics
  • Anti-parasitic medicine

Your GP may also prescribe the following medicines:

  • Iron supplements
  • Antifungal medication
  • Antiseizure medicine

You may also need to take other medicines to help with other symptoms, such as diarrhoea and vomiting.

How can I manage the condition?

You should speak to your GP if you are having any of the following symptoms:

  • Feeling tired or weak
  • Dry mouth
  • Sore mouth
  • Feeling sick or vomiting
  • Feeling dizzy or fainting
  • Difficulty concentrating

You should also speak to your GP if you are having trouble with your digestion.

You may be advised to have more frequent bowel movements. You should also try to eat smaller meals more frequently.

You should also make sure you drink plenty of fluids, as this will help to keep you hydrated.

If you are pregnant, you may need to take extra iron supplements to help your baby’s red blood cells develop properly.

You can also take vitamin B12 supplements, which will help to help your body to make more red blood cells.

You should speak to your GP about vitamin B12 supplements and if you are pregnant, you should speak to your GP about taking vitamin B12 supplements.

What can I do to prevent it?

You should try to eat a healthy diet to help prevent a vitamin B12 deficiency.

You should avoid eating foods such as:

  • Beans, peas, lentils, nuts and seeds
  • Pulses such as chickpeas, beans and kidney beans
  • Fruits such as bananas
  • Vegetables such as spinach and broccoli
  • Red meat, such as lamb, pork and beef
  • Pork and game animal products
  • Fish, such as cod and salmon
  • Dairy products such as milk

You should eat more of the foods that contain vitamin B12.

Outlook

Folate is an essential vitamin that’s required for producing red blood cells, DNA, and other important substances in the body.

Without enough folate, you can develop anaemia. It’s a common problem in older people.

According to a 2016 study, the number of deaths caused by folate deficiency anaemias is rising. This is likely due to the rising rates of chronic diseases, such as dementia, chronic kidney disease, and diabetes.

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