What are the symptoms of folate deficiency?

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Folate-deficient women who become pregnant are at greater risk of giving birth to premature or low birth weight babies and those with neural tube defects. In infants and children, a folate deficiency can slow overall growth rate. In adults, long-term folate deficiency can give rise to megaloblastic anemia, where there are a smaller number of large red blood cells. Other signs of folate deficiency are often more subtle. Digestive disorders such as diarrhea, loss of appetite, and weight loss can occur, as can weakness, sore tongue, headaches, heart palpitations, irritability, forgetfulness, and behavioral disorders. Elevated levels of homocysteine in the blood, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, can also result from folate deficiency. Many of these symptoms are general and can result from a variety of other medical conditions. It is important to have a physician evaluate these symptoms so that the appropriate medical approach can be taken.
A folate deficiency is a serious health problem. Pregnant women may have higher risks of having premature babies. Their babies may have low birth weights and slow overall growth. There may be greater chances of neural tube defects. These are birth defects of the brain and spinal cord. In adults, folate deficiencies may lead to anemia. Other symptoms may include:
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Elevated homocysteine levels. This amino acid may increase risks for cardiovascular disease.
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
Symptoms of folate deficiency, or an abnormally low level of folate in the blood, include poor growth, which is especially concerning in kids who haven’t finished their growth spurt. A person with folate deficiency may also notice a swollen tongue, gray hair, or diarrhea. Peptic ulcers, which are sores or erosions in the lining of the stomach or duodenum (part of the small intestine), can also happen if you are folate deficient. Finally, in severe cases of folate deficiency, fatigue and other symptoms of anemia may develop. So after all these years, the truth finally comes out: Popeye ate all that spinach to prevent getting too low on folate!

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.