Vitamin deficiency anemia

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at January 20, 2016
StartDiseasesVitamin deficiency anemia

When a person has less hemoglobin in the blood than normal or less red blood cells, a person is experiencing anemia. In some cases, anemia can be caused by a lack of certain vitamins required to produce healthy red blood cells called vitamin deficiency anemia.


Definition & Facts

More than 3 million people in the United States suffer from vitamin deficiency anemia. Vitamin deficiency anemia occurs because a person’s body is not receiving adequate nutrition required to produce healthy red blood cells. Vitamin deficiency anemia results from low or depleted levels of Vitamin B6, folate (also called folic acid or vitamin B9) and/or Vitamin B12.

Vitamin B6 deficiency can result from taking certain medications used to treat tuberculosis or Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders. Folate deficiency anemia occurs when red blood cells are created without enough folate in the body. These red blood cells tend to be large and malformed and die off quickly.

Vitamin B12 plays a crucial role in creating the red blood cells necessary for delivering oxygen to cells throughout the body. Autoimmune diseases like Crohn’s disease and celiac disease can inhibit the body’s ability to absorb Vitamin B12. Another kind of Vitamin B12 deficiency can occur if an individual receives a gastric bypass surgery. This surgery does not allow the body to produce enough gastric acid to release the B12 in their food for absorption in the intestines.

Symptoms & Complaints

Symptoms of vitamin deficiency anemia develop slowly. If left untreated, severe deficiency may cause complications such as diarrhea, nerve damage, impaired mental faculties, congestive heart failure, confusion and death. Although there are different types of anemia with different symptoms some of the most common signs individuals experience are:


There are many factors that contribute to vitamin deficiency anemia. Although causes of vitamin deficiency anemia largely depend on what essential vitamin the body is lacking, there are some indicators to particularly look for. The most common risk factor is being a woman due to pregnancy and menstruation. Pregnant women have an increased need for folate which can lead to a deficiency if they are not taking folate supplements.

Another risk factor is being a vegan or vegetarian due to not receiving adequate amounts of iron contained in meat. Iron is necessary for carrying oxygen in the hemoglobin of your red blood cells. Other risk factors for vitamin deficiency anemia relate to diet and alcoholism, gastrointestinal disorders, kidney disease and medications.

Folate can be found in green leafy vegetables and yeast. A diet lacking in these can lead to vitamin deficiency anemia. Alcohol and conditions like celiac disease can interfere with the absorption of folate by the intestines. Medications that have been known to interfere with the absorption of folate are anti-seizure drugs like phenytoin, primidone, and phenobarbital.

Diagnosis & Tests

Laboratory testing is used to identify a vitamin deficiency in order to establish its severity. Testing seeks to determine the underlying cause of someone’s symptoms and to monitor the effectiveness of treatment. During a routine complete blood count (CBC), the anemia and large red blood cells (RBCs) associated with a vitamin B12 or folate deficiency are often initially detected. For follow up, additional laboratory testing is performed in order to identify the specific deficiency.

Treatment & Therapy

The treatment the doctor prescribes will depend on the cause of the anemia. Treatment may include a change in diet, taking supplements, an alteration of medication, and in severe cases, medical procedures such as blood transfusions. Treatment of anemia due to Vitamin B12 or folate deficiency consists of replacing the deficient vitamin.

Usually vitamin B12 can be administered by an injection, especially if the deficiency is severe enough and/or is caused by an inability to absorb the vitamin from the digestive tract. Injection treatments are first, given daily or weekly for several weeks depending on the blood levels and how long it would take to return the Vitamin B12 to a normal functioning state. When the levels have returned to normal, the injection can be administered once a month for maintenance.

There are areas of opportunity for Vitamin B12 to be received through nose spray, throat spray, or pill form that is placed under the tongue, or one that can be swallowed. People who have anemia due to Vitamin B12 deficiency typically must take Vitamin B12 supplements for the duration of their life.

As there are many types of vitamin deficiency anemia, those who have it should speak to a physician to explore more information on which treatment is best suited to the situation.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

There are steps you can take to help prevent some types of anemia. Some of those ways include:

  • Getting tested yearly
  • Eating foods high in iron: lentils/beans, tofu, red meat (lean only), fish, dried fruits and apricots
  • Not drinking coffee or tea with meals, as these drinks make it harder for the body to absorb iron.
  • Eating and drinking foods that help the body absorb iron: orange juice, strawberries, broccoli
  • Speak to the physicians about taking supplements to make sure what which supplement is best suited towards the diagnosed condition.