Everyone knows that we need vitamins and minerals to keep our bodies healthy. But how do you know when you aren’t meeting your body’s needs? “There are many telltale signs of vitamin and mineral deficiencies,” says Patricia Graham, MD, an internal medicine specialist at Rush University Medical Center. “But the good news is that often if you take steps to address the deficiency, the symptoms will either improve or go away altogether.”
Doctors diagnose vitamin deficiency through blood tests that check the levels of all the necessary nutrients. If blood tests reveal a vitamin deficiency, your doctor may perform other tests to determine the type and cause. Your doctor may draw a sample of your blood to check for antibodies to intrinsic factor. Their presence indicates pernicious anemia. You may undergo a blood test to measure the presence of a substance called methylmalonic acid.
Here are some common problems related to vitamin deficiency.
People with anemia have fewer red blood cells than normal. In vitamin deficiency anemias related to a lack of vitamin B-12 and folate, the red blood cells appear large and underdeveloped. In advanced deficiencies, the numbers of white blood cells and platelets also might be decreased and look abnormal under a microscope.
Treatment for vitamin deficiency anemia includes supplements and changes in diet. Treatment involves eating a healthy diet and taking folic acid supplements as prescribed by your doctor. In most cases, folic acid supplements are taken orally. Once your body’s level of folate increases to normal, you may be able to stop taking the supplements.
Sometimes folate deficiency and B-12 deficiency occur at the same time. Treatment of the folate deficiency without treatment of the vitamin B-12 deficiency may make your symptoms worse. If you have pernicious anemia, injections of vitamin B-12 are recommended for treatment. If you and your doctor consider your taking vitamin B-12 supplements orally, you’ll need careful monitoring by your doctor.
At first, you may receive the shots as often as every other day. Eventually, you’ll need injections just once a month, which may continue for life, depending on your situation. For milder cases of vitamin B-12 deficiency, treatment may involve changes to your diet and vitamin B-12 supplements in pill form or as a nasal spray.
Additionally, you increase your intake of foods and beverages that contain vitamin C. If you suspect that you have vitamin deficiency anemia, you’re likely to start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner. However, in some cases, you may be referred to a doctor who specializes in treating blood disorders (hematologist).
How can I best manage these conditions together? Are there any foods I need to add to my diet? Are there any brochures or other material that I can take with me? What websites do you recommend? In addition to the questions that you’ve prepared to ask your doctor, don’t hesitate to ask questions during your appointment anytime that you don’t understand something.
The doctor will ask you a lot of questions including some that may seem unrelated to the reason for which you scheduled the appointment. Including inquiring about any major stresses or recent life changes. as well as any vitamins or supplements you’re taking. Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time together.
Being ready to answer them may reserve time to go over points you want to spend more time on. Your doctor may ask: When did you begin experiencing symptoms? How severe are your symptoms? Does anything seem to improve your symptoms? What, if anything, appears to worsen your symptoms? Are you a vegetarian? How many servings of fruits and vegetables do you usually eat in a day? Do you drink alcohol? If so, how often, and how many drinks do you usually have? Are you a smoker? Etc.
Sharing as much information as possible will help your doctor develop the next plan of action.
Deficiencies could be a sign of bigger issues, such as low iron levels, which affects your energy, or thyroid disease, which could lead to sudden unexplained weight gain or weight loss. If your iron levels are low, you might also always feel cold, have headaches, and feel dizzy often.
The good news is you can eliminate an iron deficiency with supplements. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) is 8 mg for men over 18 years old and 18 mg for women. Be sure to also include iron-rich foods in your diets, such as spinach and beans.
Talk to your doctor, who will likely order a blood test to check your B12 levels. You almost might have issues with balance, constipation, and dry skin. B12 plays an essential role in your health by producing hemoglobin, part of your red blood cells that helps the cells in your body receive life-giving oxygen.
In addition, B12 deficiency can create mild cognitive impairment, so if you’re experiencing any changes in memory, thinking, or behavior, see your doctor. Over time, B12 deficiency can permanently damage your nervous system, traveling up the spine and into the brain. Plant-based diets eliminate most foods (meat and dairy products) rich in B12, increasing the risk of deficiency.
If you’re feeling not yourself or off in any way it’s a good idea to see your doctor. Things you think are inconsequential can sometimes add up to something serious.
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