9 Blood Tests to Help Identify Vitamin B12 and Folate Deficiency
Are you feeling tired, sluggish, or irritable? Have you noticed changes in your digestion? You could be dealing with a vitamin deficiency.
The majority of people in the United States consume adequate levels of B12 and folate. However, it's estimated that three percent of men and eight percent of women are deficient.
A vitamin deficiency can come with a number of consequences. It's important to keep an eye on odd symptoms you're experiencing in case you could be a part of the three or eight percent.
If you're looking for a vitamin B12 deficiency test, you'll benefit from having some background information on the deficiency, its symptoms, treatments, etc. So keep reading to learn more.
What Are Vitamin B12 and Folate?
Along with folate and vitamin C, vitamin B12, also called cobalamin, helps the body make new proteins. The proteins make red and white blood cells, repair cells, and synthesize DNA.
Vitamin B12 is not naturally produced in the body. Therefore, a person needs to get the right amount from their diet. Red meat, fish, poultry, milk, yogurt, and eggs contain cobalamin.
Folate is also a vitamin the body does not make naturally. It's especially important during pregnancy for cell division. It's commonly found in leafy green vegetables, peas and dry beans, liver, yeast, and citrus fruits.
So, what causes vitamin B12 deficiency? When someone is dealing with a vitamin B12 deficiency, it's most often because they're not getting enough through their diet or supplements.
When it comes to dietary deficiencies, vegans are the most likely to suffer because of the lack of animal products. However, dietary deficiencies are not the only reason people may develop a B12 deficiency.
Two other reasons someone may be suffering from vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms are inadequate absorption and increased need. If the vitamin B12 absorption process stops, that can cause the body to absorb less than what it needs. In regard to increased need, some diseases and conditions, like pregnancy or cancer, can boost the need for B12.
Signs and Symptoms of Vitamin B12 and Folate Deficiency
In some cases, a mild vitamin B12 and folate deficiency causes no symptoms. Minor changes in diet could fix the issue because a person even realizes something is off. As the deficiency worsens, however, the signs and symptoms become significantly more noticeable.
Some of the most common signs and symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency include the following:
- Muscle weakness
- Loss of appetite
- Pale skin
- Rapid heart rate
- Irregular heartbeats
- Shortness of breath
- Sore or smooth tongue and month
- Tingling, numbness, and/or burning in the feet, hands, arms, and legs
- Vision loss
- Weight loss
- Unsteady movements
- Mental confusion
If you notice signs of a vitamin B12 deficiency, it's important to learn about the blood tests that can confirm or deny your suspected problem. While you may think you need to head to the doctor to get that done, you have online testing options from Ulta Lab Tests to make the process easier.
Consequences of an Untreated Vitamin B12 Deficiency
If a vitamin B12 deficiency goes untreated, there are several potential consequences. The most common is anemia. When your body doesn't make enough red blood cells, you won't have enough oxygen to your tissues and organs. Untreated anemia can result in heart failure.
Anemia can also cause nerve problems. This is because B12 helps your body produce myelin. Myelin is essentially a protective layer throughout your nervous system. When those layers break down, nerve fibers can get damaged, which can cause numbness. Left untreated, paralysis is possible.
A vitamin B12 deficiency can also cause mental health issues like depression, anxiety, insomnia, confusion, and visual or audio hallucinations. In extreme cases, patients can experience extrapyramidal symptoms where the body moves uncontrollably.
Some doctors and scientists believe there is also a connection between B12 deficiencies and brain issues like dementia and Alzheimer's disease. The brain naturally shrinks with age, but depleted B12 can speed up the process by increasing the level of amino acids in the brain.
Unfortunately, that's not where the consequences stop. Some rarer conditions related to B12 and folate deficiency include infertility, osteoporosis, COPD, and infertility.
Blood Tests for Vitamin B12 and Folate Deficiency
If it's suspected you have a vitamin B12 deficiency, there are a number of blood tests that can confirm or deny the suspicion. Folate is typically tested simultaneously, as the signs and symptoms of both deficiencies are similar.
Does vitamin B12 deficiency show in blood tests? The short answer is yes. There are, however, a number of tests that can be used. Let's take a look at the nine types of blood tests used to diagnose vitamin B12 and folate deficiencies.
1) Vitamin B12
A vitamin B12 test is used to diagnose conditions like anemia and other autoimmune diseases. In addition, in the elderly, the test can help determine the cause of an altered mental state. If a person suffers from a B12 deficiency, their doctor will likely order the test over time to see if the established treatment is effective.
While folate is a separate blood test, it is often used together with B12. In addition to detecting illnesses, testing folate levels can provide a general overview of a person's health and nutritional status.
A CBC, also known as a complete blood count, is used to screen for many conditions and diseases that affect blood cells. The test evaluates red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.
Red blood cells contain hemoglobin, which is the protein that transports oxygen throughout the body. While most red blood cells last 120 days, medical conditions can change that. When a person has vitamin B12 and folate deficiencies, their red blood cells appear abnormal in size and shape.
White blood cells are a crucial part of the body's immune system. So if the body is fighting an infection or inflammation, the numbers will come back abnormal.
Platelets are cell fragments that assist with clotting. People who have diseases that cause low platelets are at risk of excessive bleeding and bruising.
4) B Vitamins
B vitamins are required for metabolism and energy. They're also needed for cell, skin, bone, muscle, organ, and nervous system health. B vitamins are water-soluble, which means you have to eat foods rich in B vitamins to meet your body's needs.
When you get tested for B vitamins, your doctor will review your levels for thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxal phosphate (B6), biotin (B7), folate (B9), and cobalamin (B12).
In regard to test results, low levels could indicate a B vitamin deficiency, and high levels can be associated with vitamin toxicity.
5) Methylmalonic Acid
Testing methylmalonic acid can detect early or mild vitamin B12 deficiency. The acid is needed for metabolism and energy production. As methylmalonic acid rises in your blood, vitamin B12 levels decrease.
While the body has measures to level the two out, someone with malabsorption issues could experience numbness, swelling, and jaundice.
Homocysteine is an amino acid. It is present in all cells of the body and is quickly converted into other products. Vitamin B12 and folate, along with B6, are needed to metabolize homocysteine.
If a blood test reveals homocysteine levels are elevated, the patient could have a B12 deficiency. Additional testing will be needed to get to the root of the problem.
Higher levels of homocysteine can also indicate a higher risk for stroke, atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, or peripheral vascular disease.
7) Intrinsic Factor Antibody
Intrinsic factor antibodies are proteins made by the immune system. The protein is produced by specialized cells in the lining of the stomach wall.
During digestion, stomach accidents release vitamin B12 and bind to intrinsic factor antibodies. With an intrinsic factor, vitamin B 12 goes unabsorbed, and a person can develop anemia.
8) Parietal Cell Antibody
Parietal cell antibodies are proteins produced by the immune system. The antibodies mistakenly target cells that line the stomach wall.
You could have this test completed if you or your doctor believes you have pernicious anemia. Pernicious anemia is an autoimmune disease that flares when the body's immune system targets its own tissues.
Gastrin, produced by the G-cells, is a hormone that's part of the stomach's antrum. This blood test is usually used to evaluate recurrent peptic ulcers and other types of severe abdominal pain or symptoms.
While this test isn't directly used to diagnose a vitamin B12 deficiency, its results can help you decide your next step.
A gastrin test is commonly used when a patient suffers from diarrhea, abdominal pain, peptic ulcers, and fatigue.
While most vitamin B12 and folate deficiencies can be identified with tests at the top of the list, you may need additional testing if your results are unclear.
With the number of tests Ulta Lab Tests offers, you'll be on track to understanding your body's needs in no time. Test results come as quickly as one to two days, so you won't have to wait weeks to find out if you have a deficiency that needs to be addressed.
Understanding the Results of a Vitamin B12 Deficiency Test
If your test results confirm you have a vitamin B12 deficiency, you may need to undergo additional testing to reach a diagnosis.
It's important to note that dietary deficiency of B12 or folate is uncommon in the United States. This is because many foods are fortified with vitamins.
In some instances, you could have a deficiency because of certain medications. If your test results indicate that, you can talk with your doctor about finding a new treatment method or adding supplements to your diet.
Treating a Vitamin B12 Deficiency
In most instances, treating vitamin deficiencies involves changes in diet and adding supplements.
For a folate deficiency, folic acid supplements are often suggested. However, once the body's folate level is where it needs to be, which can be confirmed with follow-up blood tests, you'll likely be able to stop taking the supplements.
With a B-12 deficiency, patients usually start with oral supplements, but that's not always enough. If blood tests do not show any improvements with traditional supplements, B12 injections are an option.
But how long does it take to recover from B12 deficiency? That answer depends on how well you follow your treatment plan and how your body responds.
If blood tests confirm you have a vitamin B12 and folate deficiency, you'll want to consider asking your doctor questions about your condition and treatment options. Some of the most common questions, and their answers, patients ask include the following:
Is vitamin B12 deficiency dangerous?
If left untreated, a B12 deficiency can cause serious complications.
Does vitamin B12 deficiency cause memory loss?
Yes, vitamin B12 deficiency can cause memory loss.
Can vitamin B12 deficiency cause muscle pain?
Yes, vitamin B12 deficiency can cause muscle pain.
Can vitamin B12 deficiency cause lightheadedness?
Yes, vitamin B12 deficiency can cause lightheadedness, particularly when a person stands up too quickly.
Can vitamin B12 deficiency cause insomnia?
Insomnia and fatigue are the most common and debilitating symptoms related to vitamin B12 deficiency.
Can vitamin B12 deficiency cause fever?
A severe vitamin B12 deficiency can cause a fever.
Can vitamin B12 deficiency cause dizziness?
Frequent dizziness and vertigo can indicate a vitamin B12 deficiency.
Cause vitamin B12 deficiency cause diabetes?
No, but diabetes can increase your risk of having a B12 deficiency.
Can rheumatoid arthritis cause vitamin B12 deficiency?
Not necessarily, but a portion of patients with RA do have vitamin B12 deficiency.
Once you have a handle on your vitamin deficiency, you'll be able to get back to living a high-quality life.
Order Lab Tests Online
For many patients, driving to a hospital or medical facility for bloodwork can be time-consuming and costly. Fortunately, Ulta Lab Tests offers vitamin B12 deficiency test options.
When you order lab work from Ulta Lab Tests, your results are kept secure and confidential. And you won't have to worry about getting a referral from your doctor, either. We also offer the lowest prices on lab tests, so health insurance isn't a problem if you're not covered.
If you're ready to take control of your health, contact us today.