Megaloblastic anemia is a type of anemia caused by deficiency of vitamin B-12 or folic acid in the body. Vitamin B-12 and folic acid play a key role in the production of red blood cells. Deficiency of any of these two causes megaloblastic anemia, when abnormal red blood cells (megaloblasts) are formed in the bone marrow, while the production of erythrocytes is reduced. Therefore, the blood cannot supply the organs with sufficient oxygen.

This type of anemia is more common in people over 40.



The symptoms of megaloblastic anemia are similar as in all types of anemia in early stages, and they develop slowly. These symptoms are:

  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • paleness
  • shortness of breath, even in case of low effort
  • fast heartbeat

With time, these symptoms may worsen. Folic acid deficiency does not necessarily cause additional symptoms, however, vitamin B-12 deficiency may damage the nervous system, with the following symptoms:

  • numbness in hands and feet
  • exhaustion
  • loss of balance
  • loss of memory
  • confusion
  • jaundice



The cause of megaloblastic anemia is vitamin B-12 and folic acid deficiencies. Vitmain B-12 deficiency is a consequence of an autoimmune disease, when the body produces antibodies that damage the stomach lining and prevents it to produce the internal factor that absorbs vitamin B-12 from the nutrients. This type of megaloblastic anemia, known as pernicious anemia (dangerous), may be inherited, and is more common in women with other autoimmune diseases, lika Hashimoto’s thyroidism. Other causes can be:

  • celiac disease
  • abdominal surgery
  • anemia
  • leukemia
  • genetic conditions

Folic acid deficiency is a consequence of poor diet, intake of alcohol, pregnancy, diseases like psoriasis, or medications (anticonvulsive drugs or cancer drugs).


Risk Factors

The risk factors for megaloblastic anemia are:

  • gender, genetics, and lifestyle depending on the underlying causes
  • vegetarian diet
  • pregnancy
  • intestinal problems
  • alcohol, which prevents absorption of folic acid
  • medications
  • cancer treatment
  • low intake of fruits and vegetables
  • hemodialysis



The complications of megaloblastic anemia arise if left untreated. Those can be:

  • permament damage to the nervous system
  • stomach cancer
  • pregnancy complications (premature birth, birth defects of the brain and the spinal cord)



Prevention of megaloblastic anemia may not be possible, but you can:

  • make changes in the lifestyle
  • eat vegetables and fruits that contain vitamin B-12 and folic acid; not drinking alcohol
  • stop smoking
  • reduce drinking alcohol