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General Information

DEFINITION--Anemia caused by a deficiency of folic acid. It is often accompanied by iron-deficiency anemia.

BODY PARTS INVOLVED--Blood cells, which transport oxygen to all body parts.

SEX OR AGE MOST AFFECTED--Both sexes, but most common in women over 30.


  • Fatigue and weakness.
  • Red, sore tongue.
  • Paleness.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea (rare).


  • Complication of pregnancy, when the body needs 8 times more folic acid than usual.
  • Inadequate intake or absorption of foods with a high folic-acid content, such as meat, poultry, fish, cheese, milk, eggs, green vegetables, yeast and mushrooms.
  • Alcoholism.
  • Overcooking foods, which destroys folic acid.
  • Deficiency of vitamin B-12 or vitamin C.


  • Adults over 60, especially those who have poor diets.
  • Pregnancy.
  • Illness, such as tropical sprue, psoriasis, acne rosacea, eczema or dermatitis herpetiformis.
  • Fad diets or general poor nutrition, especially vitamin-C deficiency.
  • Surgical removal of the stomach.
  • Smoking, which decreases vitamin-C absorption. Vitamin C is necessary for folic-acid absorption.
  • Use of certain drugs, such as oral contraceptives, anticonvulsants, methotrexate, triamterene or sulfasalazine.


  • Don't drink alcohol.
  • Have regular medical checkups during pregnancy. Take prenatal vitamin supplements, if they are prescribed.
  • Eat well. Include fresh vegetables, meat and other animal proteins. Avoid fad diets. Don't overcook food.
  • Don't smoke. Smoking increases vitamin requirements.

What To Expect


  • Your own observation of symptoms.
  • Medical history and physical exam by a doctor.
  • Laboratory blood studies and possibly a Schilling test to measure vitamin B-12 levels and a therapeutic trial of vitamin B-12.


  • Self-care after diagnosis.
  • Doctor's treatment.


  • Infertility.
  • Increased susceptibility to infection.
  • Congestive heart failure (severe cases only).

PROBABLE OUTCOME--Usually curable in 3 weeks with an adequate folic-acid intake.

How To Treat


  • If you smoke, stop smoking.
  • If you take oral contraceptives, consider using another form of contraception.

MEDICATION--Your doctor may prescribe:

  • Folic-acid supplements.
  • Iron supplements to take orally.

ACTIVITY--Anemia causes fatigue. Schedule regular rest periods until you are able to resume normal activity.

DIET--No special diet. Eat foods daily that are high in folic acid. The liver can store folic acid for a limited time only. Foods include asparagus spears, beef liver, broccoli spears, collards (cooked), mushrooms, oatmeal, peanut butter, red beans, wheat germ.

Call Your Doctor If

  • You have symptoms of anemia.
  • Symptoms don't improve in 2 weeks, despite treatment.
  • Symptoms of infection (fever, chills and muscle aches) occur during treatment.
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