Vitamin Deficiency Anemia


What is vitamin deficiency anemia?

Vitamin deficiency anemia occurs when the body has fewer healthy red blood cells than is normal. Red blood cells help deliver oxygen to organs and tissues all over the body. When you don’t have enough red blood cells, your body does not get the amount of oxygen it needs.

How common is vitamin deficiency anemia?

The risk of developing vitamin deficiency anemia gets higher as you grow older. Pregnant women are at a higher risk for developing the condition because their bodies need more vitamins during pregnancy.

Symptoms and Causes

What causes vitamin deficiency anemia?

A lack of any one of several vitamins — B12, folate (also known as folic acid), or vitamin C — causes vitamin deficiency anemia. Megaloblastic anemia is a type of vitamin deficiency anemia that specifically involves a lack of vitamin B12 or folate.

Some people with the condition don’t eat enough of these vitamins. In other cases, the person’s body cannot properly process or absorb these vitamins. This difficulty may result from an underlying condition such as celiac disease. It is also linked to behaviors including smoking and alcohol abuse.

Sometimes a person’s body will have an increased need for these vitamins. People who need more of these vitamins include women who are pregnant and people with cancer that has spread to multiple parts of their bodies. If they do not meet this additional need for vitamins, they can develop vitamin deficiency anemia.

What are the symptoms of vitamin deficiency anemia?

Symptoms of vitamin deficiency anemia are often mild. In many cases, people only discover they have the condition when a doctor tests them for another condition. Other people may develop symptoms that include:

  • Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Pale skin
  • Shortness of breath
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Numbness or cold feeling in hands and feet

Diagnosis and Tests

How do doctors diagnose vitamin deficiency anemia?

Doctors use several tests to diagnose vitamin deficiency anemia and its causes. A blood test called a complete blood count (CBC) enables your doctor to see if your red blood cell count is low. This test also shows if the cells are misshapen, another sign of the deficiency.

If blood tests confirm vitamin deficiency anemia, your doctor may do more tests to find the cause. These tests include a Schilling test, which can show if your body is not absorbing enough vitamin B12.

Management and Treatment

What are the common treatments for vitamin deficiency anemia?

Treatment for vitamin deficiency anemia depends on the cause. If your diet lacks necessary vitamins, eating foods rich in those vitamins is the most common treatment. Doctors sometimes recommend taking vitamin supplements to get the needed vitamins. You might receive these supplements either by mouth or as an injection.

If an underlying condition causes vitamin deficiency anemia, your doctor will treat that condition to resolve symptoms.

What are common complications or side effects of vitamin deficiency anemia?

Pregnant women who do not get enough folate have an increased risk of having a baby with birth defects called neural tube defects. Neural tube defects affect the brain, spinal cord and spine. Doctors recommend that women who are planning to get pregnant take a folate supplement to reduce this risk.

Some people with vitamin B12 deficiency can develop nerve damage. People who seek early treatment can often reverse some of this damage.


Can vitamin deficiency anemia be prevented?

Stopping behaviors that contribute to the deficiency, such as unhealthy eating, smoking, and heavy alcohol use, can help prevent vitamin deficiency anemia.

Eating a healthy diet can lower your risk of developing the condition. Some people take a daily vitamin supplement to help prevent the condition. Foods that can help your body produce healthy red blood cells include:

  • Red meat
  • Eggs
  • Green leafy vegetables, including spinach and broccoli
  • Dried fruits
  • Milk
  • Nuts
  • Citrus juices

Outlook / Prognosis

What is the outlook for people with vitamin deficiency anemia?

For most people with vitamin deficiency anemia, symptoms disappear shortly after treatment.

Some people need lifelong treatment to avoid the symptoms and complications of vitamin deficiency anemia. This treatment may involve regular doctor visits and vitamin supplements. Monitoring the condition helps ensure it does not worsen enough to interfere with your quality of life.

Living With

When should I call a doctor?

Call your doctor if you develop symptoms of vitamin deficiency anemia. Your doctor can help rule out other conditions that could be causing your symptoms, or recommend appropriate treatment for your condition.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/02/2018.


  • National Organization for Rare Disorders. Anemia, Megaloblastic. ( Accessed 3/13/2018.
  • Gluten Intolerance Group. Celiac Disease and Anemia. ( Accessed 3/13/2018.
  • American Society of Hematology. Anemia. ( Accessed 3/13/2018.
  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Pernicious Anemia. ( Accessed 3/13/2018.
  • American Association for Clinical Chemistry. Vitamin B12 and Folate Deficiencies. ( Accessed 3/13/2018.

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